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We provide transcribed talks by 35 different speakers
Candradasa, FBA Team
Padmatara, San Francisco, USA
Mary, FBA Team
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Aileen, Shetland Islands
Kuladharini, Glasgow, UK
... point of view.
Padmavajra's third question on interpenetration and a cosmic soul.
Padmavajra: In Tuscany 1984 you spoke of the Avatamsaka sutra' 5 image if intecepting
beams of different coloured lights as a while of~ustratin the fact that the universe had a sort
of intelligence or 'soul' (in inverted commas) which was essentially ethical. This intelli ence
is such that the threat of reat catastro h
the positive counter forces. Have you had any more thouqhts about this, could you elaborate
on the mutual interpenetration of all things being like a cosmic 'soul'.
S: I'm afraid I haven't had any more thoughts about it at all, The subject doesn't seem to have
come up. I will say what occurs to me just now which may not be very much. Maybe you
could go through the question clause by clause.
Padmavajra: In Tuscany 1984 you spoke of the Avatamsaka sutra's image of intercepting
beams of different coloured lights as a way of illustrating the fact that the universe had a sort
of intelligence or 'soul'.
S: It's not that the universe had a sort of intelligence or sould, as it were tacked onto it, that
the universe was actually material but added onto it it had a soul just as we are really bodies
but we have added onto us a soul, ourselves. Not that. I was trying to get at the point that the
universe was, so to speak, instinct with life, that there wasn't in fact any such thing as a dead
universe. That it wasn't dead on any level, that matter wasn't dead, that there was no such
thing as dead matter, not even rocks and stones, not even minerals. Not even atoms. or
electrons were dead in the way that perhaps science used to think of the universe as being. So
I was thinking more along those lines, not of the material universe, or a really material
universe, as actually possessing something which could be called a soul. Just as we don't
think of conditionality as something which is a quality of conditioned objects, which is
separate, but the conditionality is, so to speak, part of the very essence of those conditioned
things. Again in the same way, a comparison I have used before, there is no such thing as
gravity to which material bodies are subject, it is just a description of the way things behave.
So when we speak of the universe as alive, or as having a soul, what we really mean that it
behaves more like something that is alive than it behaves like something
WLS Q/A 86 1 - 55 that is dead. Not that it has some separatable quality called life, or some seperable entity
called soul which can be attached to it.
Padmavajra: The fact that the universe had a sort of intelligence or soul which was
S: Again, just as there isn't this detachable soul, so there Thn't this detachable ethical quality.
If you see what I mean. Just like, if you see a red flower, you can't take away the redness of
the flower, and leave a flower that is completely colourless, which has no colour at all.
Dhammarati: Even if there isn't an ethical quality separate from intrinsic nature, are you still
suggesting in the same way the flower has colour there' 5 a quality in the life of the universe
that, for want of a better term, you describe as ethical?
S: This is what the term Dharma really suggests. Because Buddhism does in a sense take
over from Vedic thought the conception of, what in the Vedas is calle~(Arita?) which is
something like law, something like right, something like rightousness, and that clearly
overlapped with dharma. Not as a quality of human actions or human behaviour, but as a
characteristic, so to speak, of the universe itself. It's because the universe has a basically
ethical quality, a basically ethical nature, that skilful actions result in happiness and unskilful
actions result in suffering. That is the nature of things. It is not some arbritrary imposition, as
when a human judge or law-giver might quite arbitrarily penalise certain actions and not
penalise others~ with another law-giver, conceivably, doing exactly the opposite. So rightly
or wrongly there seem to be deeply engrained in Buddhist thought, Indian Buddhist thought,
the idea of the universe as sensitive, as alive, and even as ethical. But there is another point
I wanted to make, I think in connection with that next clause, what was that?
Padmavajra: This intelligence is such that the threat of great catastrophy, such as nuclear
destruction, will be naturally outweighed by positive counter forces.
S: Well that requires, I think, some qualification, because Tl1 sorts of disasters do occur, so
where is that counter- balancing agency and what is it up to. I certainly didn't mean to
suggest that any unfortunate development is automatically counterbalanced, but only that it
may be, (or for certain,
unfortunate eventualities or even disasters may be under
certain circumstances. But there is no guarantee that certain catastrophies are not going to
take place and all sorts of dreadful things have happened in the past. But there is this
counterbalancing tendency, at least. Not that it is necessarily always succesful, again, so to
speak, any more than we always are in our efforts to counterbalance certain unfortunate or
negative things that may be going on around us.
Dhammarati: Does the counterbalancing tendency work lust because the human mind will
tend away from pain or are there other agencies that affect things independent of
WLS Q/A 86 1 - 66 involved? How does this counterbalancing influence work if it is not the individual mind?
S: Well, traditionally in Buddhism there are non-human entities, so to speak, in the form of
Bodhisattvas, and not necessarily operating through a human bodily form. One could regard
the Bodhisattvas as the focal points, so to speak, of that counter- balancing energy. But there
is no doubt that in the karmaloka that counterbalancing force or energy acts directly only
through human beings.
Dharmaloka: Bhante, would you suggest though that this tendency doesn't work apart from
individual effort, or self conscious activity?
S: I am not sure about that. Because, supposing, let's follow the traditional Buddhist line of
thought, that there are beings called Bodhisattvas, around in the universe, I can't personally
imagine a Bodhisattva acting directly through the natural order by way of a sort of
supernatural intervention. I can't really imagine a Bodhisattva.., supposing a house is about to
fall down on somebody, I can't really imagine a Bodhisattva stopping the house from falling
down. But supposing there is nearby an individual, an individual who is receptive to higher
influences, I can imagine, so to speak, that individual being in touch with some - let us say
higher energy, with a Bodhisattva - and the Bodhisattva, perhaps, inspiring that human
individual to take action of that sort on the material plane. Do you see what I mean? But I
certainly don't see the Bodhisattva, I don't see that counterbalancing force as taking action
directly through the material order of existence.
Perhaps it represents a limitation of my
own imagination, but I must admit I can't see it. I think if one wants to see or thought that
one saw it from a Buddhist point of view it would give rise to all sorts of doctrinal
difficulties. But yes, I can certainly well imagine human beings being able to contact higher
levels of existence, higher levels of experience where they were susceptible to higher spiritual
influences which would motivate them in their behaviour on the actual material plane, or
so-called material plane, itself.
I think the question of how real the Bodhisattvas or
those higher influences are in that sense, is a bit of a .~, not exactly a red herring, but it begs
the question of what is real'. Because as the back of one' 5 mind one tends to think of the real
as being really the material. Even when one doesn't actually think that one thinks of the real
by way of analogy with the material.
Anyway, let's pass on.
Tejananda: The fourth question is from Cittapala about practices for insight into
Bhante, I was ~ust wondering whether you knew of any Buddhist practices
related to cultivating the type of vision which is related with Indra's net?
S: In this little book by Suzuki which I referred to he gives a very interesting illustration, or
rather it was a demonstration. Apparantly a great Chinese Master of this particular tradition,
in China, wanted to explain the doctrine of mutual interpenetration
WLS Q/A 86 1 - 77 to, I think it was a Chinese Empress. So what he did was he made an arrangement all round
the room of mirrors and candles, so that every mirror reflected all the candles and also
reflected all the mirrors reflecting all the candles, and in this way he tried to give her some
idea of what mutual interPenetration was like. One could try to visualize this and think in
these terms. Of course it was inadequate because it was static. One would need to set the
whole thing in motion, to give a somewhat more adequate representation. But at least it gives
one some idea.
I would say that probably one of the best ways of developing insight,
via this particular way of looking at ultimate reality is not so much by reflecting on the
philosophical doctrine, as by reading ...