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The Buddha and Society

by Vishvapani

The fourth in a major new series of talks by Vishvapani to mark the launch of his new book: 'Gautama Buddha: The Life and Teachings of the Awakened One' (Quercus, 2011).

Vishvapani is a well known figure in the Triratna Buddhist Community and is a regular contributor on the BBC's 'Thought for the Day'.

The Buddha as a radical, as a holy man, as pragmatist, as tamer of demons, as visionary - in this wide-ranging, riveting talk Vishvapani gives us all these and more, and all in relation to the society Gautama took part in. Some provocative words and questions from the Buddha and from our speaker as we try to get to grips with a world vastly different from our own. What was the Buddha's social vision, and what can we learn from it? This is essential listening and holds some surprising insights into the life and times of a great sage in and out of his own culture and history.

Talk given in Birmingham, February 2011.

NB Some microphone noise throughout.

This talk is part of the series Gautama Buddha.

Tracks (click play to listen)

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1. Introduction to the talk and the series; greeting Urgyen Sangharakshita ('Bhante') (3:05) 
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2. A pilgrimage to the Buddhist holy places; Bodhgaya and Vulture's Peak; the lost city of Rajgriha; conjuring an image of the Buddha's society from the texts: streets, houses, traffic (5:23) 
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3. The Buddha in relation to his society; the idea of 'the Buddhist Holocaust'; Engaged Buddhism; the Buddha's main social experiment as the monastic community; its principles; the Buddha as renunciant (4:54) 
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4. Backlash for encouraging people to leave home; the Buddha adapts in the face of strong feelings; need for a laity; Suddhodana and Rahula, the Buddha's father and son; Dhammadinna and a request for understandable teaching (4:14) 
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5. The Buddha seen as an urban figure (Stephen Bachelor); dealings with kings and aristocrats; dietary advice for King Pasenadi; danger of projecting our own ideas back onto the Buddha; envisaging a very different world from our own (3:35) 
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6. The Buddha presenting himself to society as a holy man; competition between and amongst Brahmins and wandering ascetics (sramanas); story of Moggallana's death at the hands of the Jains (5:05) 
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7. The spirit world as a very powerful presence in people's lives and the old religion, taming demons; the Buddha at the shrine of Mara, what Mara represents (3:14) 
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8. People asking the Buddha about future rebirths of people who have died; if you want to know your future fate, look into the mirror of the Dharma; the Buddha tires of the issue but accepts the role skilfully (2:15) 
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9. The Buddha's own vision; Sigalovada Sutta and the six directions; the world as what you experience; creating meaning and significance; mythic structure; teachings on different levels - karma and ethics; challenging views; mythic thinking and reality (5:07) 
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10. What can we learn from this? The Buddha as pragmatist; need to imagine a very different world and society from our own; the transfixing power of the Buddha's personal example; conversion of Emperor Asoka; little time for cant; standing one's own ground (4:09) 

Total running time: 41:01