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Masculinity and Femininity in the Spiritual Life

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by Sangharakshita

Aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal

Lecture 69: 'Masculinity' & 'Femininity' in the Spiritual Life Mr. Chairman and Friends, It's now, and I think most of you know, about a month since we stepped down into what we may describe as the current, as the mighty river, the mighty stream, of the Bodhisattva Ideal. And each week as we've come here we've gone, or we've tried to go, just a little deeper into that river, into that current, into that stream. And by this time, I think, we can say, I think we can feel, that we find ourselves more or less right in the middle of that stream. Not only find ourselves in the middle of it, but find ourselves, feel ourselves, being borne along by it more and more rapidly.

Perhaps at first we might have struggled a little against the current, we might not have been altogether happy about being borne along, but perhaps now we are not struggling, not resisting any more, but just allowing ourselves to be borne (as it were) in the direction of the ocean. That is to say in the direction of what we call Enlightenment, Nirvana, Buddhahood, and so on.

Now in the course of these last four weeks we have travelled quite a distance. We've left behind perhaps quite a number of old familiar landmarks. We've passed through quite a lot of unfamiliar country, unfamiliar terrain. We've seen perhaps (to continue the metaphor) have seen as we were swept along this river, have seen dense forests. Have seen perhaps in the distance lofty mountain peaks. In other words we've seen, as we've been carried along, week by week, different aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal.

In the course of the first week - in the course of the first week's lecture - we saw that the Bodhisattva was the ideal Buddhist, one who lives for the sake of Enlightenment, Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. We saw further that the Bodhisattva is the living embodiment of both Wisdom and Compassion. That he's inspired in his life, in his activity, in his work, not only by what the Buddha said, not only by the verbal teaching of the Buddha, but also by what the Buddha, in his intrinsic being, was, and what he did, the sort of influence he radiated on other men and other women.

In the course of the second week's lecture we saw that one becomes a Bodhisattva, one becomes a being dedicated to Enlightenment for the benefit of all by the arising of what is called the Bodhicitta. Literally this means, as we saw, the thought of Enlightenment, but we also saw that the Bodhicitta is much more than the thought of Enlightenment in the sense of an idea or a concept of or about Enlightenment. We saw that it's a sort of spiritual force, a spiritual power (if you like) at work in the universe. We saw that it is something transcendental, something above and beyond this world in its ultimate essence. We saw that it is not in fact individual at all, but universal, that there is one Bodhicitta, one Will to Enlightenment, and that individual Bodhisattvas participate in this in varying degrees.

We also saw that the Bodhicitta arises in dependence on certain conditions, and these conditions are represented by Santideva's Supreme Worship and Vasubandhu's Four Factors.

Now in our third week's lecture we saw that whereas the Bodhicitta itself is universal, the individual Bodhisattva is an individual, a person, and the Bodhicitta therefore expresses itself in his life and in his work in a thoroughly individual manner. And this individual expression of the Bodhicitta, through the individual Bodhisattva, is what we call the Bodhisattva's Vow. And though we speak of the vow in the singular rather than in the plural, it is in fact, we saw, really plural. And there are a number of famous sets of vows which illustrate the nature of the Bodhisattva's Vow.

The most famous set is of course that of the Four Great Vows, wherein the Bodhisattva gives expression to the aspiration, the fourfold aspiration: May I deliver all beings from difficulties, may I eradicate all passions, may I master all Dharmas, and may I lead all beings to Buddhahood.

Now last week we dealt with 'Altruism and Individualism in the Spiritual Life'. And we saw that the Bodhisattva himself represents, or the Bodhisattva Ideal itself represents, a living union of opposites. We saw that the Bodhisattva Ideal synthesizes the mundane and the transcendental, samsara and nirvana, wisdom and compassion. We saw further that it does not represent - the Bodhisattva Ideal does not represent altruism as opposed to individualism, we saw that the Bodhisattva is not concerned with the salvation of others as opposed to his own salvation. This, we saw, is a popular misrepresentation - these expressions should not be taken literally. The Bodhisattva does in fact embody both altruism and individualism. The altruistic aspect of the Bodhisattva Ideal is represented by dana, or giving, the first of the paramitas, the perfections or transcendental virtues, whereas the individualistic aspect is represented by sila, or uprightness, which is the second paramita.

We saw by the way, incidentally, that the practice of the paramitas, the perfections, the transcendental virtues, represents what is known as the establishment aspect of the Bodhicitta. Now last week we dealt with this question of dana, or giving, the first of the paramitas, along traditional lines. And we saw (you may recollect) to whom one could give, what one could give, how one should give, and why. In the case of sila, the second paramita, we adopted a rather different procedure. We took traditional categories like the five precepts for granted, and we examined the Buddhist attitude towards such things as food, work and marriage. So in this way, week by week, we have seen quite a lot as we've allowed ourselves to be borne along by the current of the Bodhisattva Ideal.

And today we're going to see just a little more. Today we're concerned with another pair of opposites, a very important pair of opposites, and we're concerned with the way in which the Bodhisattva synthesizes these. Today we're concerned with "'Masculinity' and 'Femininity' in the Spiritual Life." Now those who have seen the printed programme,, or rather the cyclostyled programme in the Newsletter, will have noticed these words 'masculinity' and 'femininity' are in single inverted commas. And this indicates that we're not to take these terms too literally, we're to take them in a more metaphorical sense. How they are really to be understood in this context, we shall see in due course. Meanwhile we mustn't forget that we shall be all the time, this evening, still concerned with the establishment aspect of the Bodhicitta - in other words with the practice of the six paramitas.

Last week, as I've just reminded you, we dealt with dana and sila, the first two paramitas, that is to say, giving and uprightness, and this week we are in fact dealing with ksanti and virya, or patience and vigour, the third and the fourth paramitas. And it is these which represent, within the context of the Bodhisattva Ideal, what we may describe as the 'masculine' and 'feminine' aspects of the spiritual life. Or if you like, these paramitas represent the active and the passive poles of the Bodhisattva Ideal. Virya or vigour represents the masculine aspect, and ksanti or patience represents the feminine aspect. Incidentally, in the Indian languages, at least in the ancient Indian languages, in a compound of this sort, the feminine usually comes first. For instance in Pali and in Sanskrit one always says 'mata- pitu', that is to say 'mother and father', one never says 'father and mother', but always the other way round: 'mother and father'. In English of course it's very often the opposite. But today we're following the more traditional, the Indian, order, and we're dealing first with ksanti, the feminine aspect, and after that with virya, the masculine aspect. And after that we shall try to see in what way virya represents the more masculine, and ksanti the more feminine aspect of, or in, the spiritual life.

Now ksanti (this is by the way to be distinguished from shanti which means peace) ksanti (with an initial K) is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful words in the whole range of Buddhism. One of the most beautiful words in the whole vocabulary of Buddhism. And it links, it combines, quite a number of associated meanings. No one English word is really sufficient to do justice to the fullness, the richness of meaning, which this word 'ksanti' contains.

Literally ksanti means patience, it means forbearance, but included is also the idea of gentleness, of docility, and even of humility. Sometimes we say that humility isn't exactly a Buddhist virtue, but we mean humility in the more artificial sense, the more self-conscious sense. In this connection there's a little story about Mahatma Gandhi. When he started one of his ashrams in India he drew up a list of all the virtues which the inmates were supposed to practise, it was quite a long list, and right at the head of the list he had the virtue of humility. Everybody was supposed to practise that. So someone pointed out to him that if you practised humility deliberately, self-consciously (as it were) then it wasn't humility, it was just hypocrisy. So he crossed it out and he wrote at the bottom "All the virtues are to be practised in a spirit of humility", which was a rather different thing.

So if one takes humility in the right sense, as a sort of unselfconscious, self-abnegation of spirit, unawareness of self, then one can include humility also as part of the meaning, part of the connotation, of this term 'ksanti'. And ksanti ...

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