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Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Mary, FBA Team
Aileen, Shetland Islands
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Padmatara, San Francisco, USA
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
S: Well, this is just the translation which is given here - Atheism, Nihilism, or disbelief in the law of
cause and effect. So, what are these views?
__________: Atheism is not one ... [inaudible]
S: It is - so what do you think is meant by that?
S: No, I wouldn't say that.
S: Materialism, virtually, yes - because in the Pali Texts you very frequently get a sort of list in this
kind of context, either in a negative form or a positive form, that somebody, for instance, believes, or
does not believe, in the existence of Enlightened Beings in the world. Well, I mean, in English,
atheism implies belief in God, so clearly it's totally inappropriate here. That itself would be a fetter -
not the other way around. So, the fetter here consists in disbelief in there being anywhere, human
beings who have attained a higher state of consciousness, or even Enlightenment. If you don't believe
that there is at least - well this was how it was put in the Buddha's day - at least one being who had
attained Enlightenment, then that is a fetter for you, because if you don't believe that anyone ever has
attained or is now in a state of having attained Enlightenment, you can't really tread the Path very
vigorously or enthusiastically yourselves. So we often get this sort of statement in the Pali texts - yes,
in a threefold form; first of all that one believes or does not believe that there are Buddhas in the
world; beings who have attained a higher state of consciousness. One believes or does not believe in
the utility of gifts, and one believes or does not believe in the law of Karma - that actions have
consequences, that willed actions have consequences. This is usually how it's put in the Pali Canon.
So, really it suggests that one, as it were, needs to believe that there is a higher spiritual state or
higher transcendental state to be attained and that beings actually have attained it, but also, that there
is a possibility of making an effort in that direction, under a law in accordance with which the results
of one's efforts can be conserved, so that they, as it were, progressively accumulate - that the
Universe is not fortuitous. Do you see what I mean? So, in the Pali Canon, therefore, you get these
three things - usually, as far as I recollect, it goes like this - that there are Buddhas in the world,
Enlightened Beings in the world - that there is a result to giving, and that actions in general, in fact
willed actions, do have consequences. The fact that actions do have consequences could be taken to
refer to the utility of supporting with gifts those who are leading the holy life. It could refer to that.
__________: I don't quite catch that.
S: Because those who have given up the world and who are dependent on others for alms are referred
to as a ‘Field of Merit', and that there is a fruit in making offerings to them - it is something
worthwhile to do. It could be looked at in that way. And then, of course, belief in the general law of
Karma - that willed actions do have consequences. So unless one has got this sort of basic foundation
of belief, as it were, it's hardly possible to set out on the Spiritual Path. So, therefore, if one has
wrong views, such as atheism, Nihilism, or disbelief in the law of cause and effect, that is a fetter.
Siddhiratna: So the atheism is a disbelief in the existence of an Enlightened Being. It always struck
me that if there were Enlightened Beings etc., that it's surprising that their effect hasn't been more
widely registered, as it were.
S: But why should it be surprising?
Siddhiratna: Because if it's glorious and holy and spiritual etc., one takes these things to be the
highest that one can achieve and you'd expect the effect of them to be quite pronounced. It always
seemed like that to me.
S: Yes, but how is the effect produced? What is the effect produced on? That is the point.
Siddhiratna: Presumably you come to the situation... can one actually understand what the effect is?
Is one sufficiently developed to understand the effect?
S: No, I wouldn't even say that. It's - for instance, if you exert, say, mechanical pressure, it must have
a result. But can you exert spiritual pressure?
Vajradaka: You can have influence.
S: Is influence pressure? This is what it boils down to.
__________: It depends on the people that are around at the time.....
S: It depends on the people around. You cannot exert an influence which will automatically have an
effect. You can't, because people have got the freedom to resist your influence, whereas in the case of
mechanical pressure it is not possible to resist it - it must have an effect in one way or another.
Whereas in the case of spiritual influence it can be resisted - well, one can't even say that - by it's
very nature there's no question of it either being resisted or not being resisted - it doesn't exert a
pressure; it is there, and those who wish can open themselves to it. Yes, you could say it's wonderful
that the influence does not seem to be more manifest, but it's not that there is anything lacking in the
influence, but that it's wonderful that people don't, for their own sakes, open themselves to it.
Siddhiratna: That's the unusual thing.
S: That is the unusual thing. But it's just the darkness and blindness of most human beings. But we
shouldn't sort of put the question in a form that suggests that the influence is some sort of power that
operates, as it were, automatically, and which people couldn't resist even if they wanted to. So that if
there aren't more Enlightened people, if that influence hasn't succeeded in producing great results,
there's something, as it were, lacking in the influence itself. It's not powerful in the mechanical sense.
But the question, if you put it in that way, suggests that it is powerful in, as it were, the mechanical
sense, and that if it isn't producing sufficient, as it were, mechanical results there's something wrong
with it - something lacking - but it is not a power or an influence in that sense at all.
It's like saying, ‘Well look, this king is supposed to be so powerful, why isn't everybody obeying
him?'. Well, in the case of a king you could say that, because he operates with power, but the
Enlightened person doesn't operate with power. He operates with influence, which is something
which can be resisted in the sense that people can refuse to open and some don't.
S: Yes. This is what I said, you know, not so very long ago - that even the most ordinary and
unenlightened person has got the capacity to undo the work of a Buddha; or making the work of a
Buddha of no effect.
Siddhiratna: You mean on themselves.
S: On themselves - yes.
Mangala: Why is this retreat not taking off? Perhaps we've got to do more meditation. (Laughter)
S: Yes. I think most people who've had to give a public lecture have found this, that sometimes the
audience is dull and unresponsive and will not respond. You can try - you can tell your humorous
stories, you can put your points quite strongly and powerfully and you can be as clear as you like, but
they're just not in a mood to respond and there's nothing you can do about it. So, one mustn't
reproach oneself when one has done one's best. Maybe a Buddha could have done more - you don't
know - maybe even a Buddha couldn't have done more. But there's something got to be done by the
audience itself - it's not your fault - you've done your bit. So, you should not reproach yourself that
you've been unable to make the audience respond. Nobody can do that - they've got to make
themselves respond, and if they don't want to there's not a thing you can do about it. You just have to
accept the fact that you cast your good seed on stony soil. Perhaps a seed did fall here and there, into
a little patch of soil that was a bit more receptive and perhaps it'll bear fruit later on; you just remain
open to that possibility; you don't write it off as a completely wasted evening.
So, the atheism here would seem to consist in disbelief in the existence, if not in the present,
certainly in the past, of Enlightened Beings. The nihilism would seem to be ‘ucchedavada' - that
there is no life after death - that when you die you just come to a full stop.
And then, disbelief in the law of cause and effect, especially in its karmic form.
So, in other words, wrong views are those views - wrong views from the spiritual point of view - are
those views which undermine the spiritual life itself. So that if you hold those views you cannot, ...