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The Individual and the Spiritual Community

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by Sangharakshita


Lecture 89: the Individual and the Spiritual Community I'm going to start tonight with a fragment, not a very big fragment, of autobiography. I first came to know about Buddhism, about what in the East is usually called the Dharma, the teaching of the Way to Enlightenment when I was about 10 or 11 years of age and I came to know about it mainly through a series of articles which I read in an encyclopedia. But I can't say that at that time, at that comparatively tender age, I was very deeply influenced by what I came to know, by what I read. I wasn't really in any way deeply affected by Buddhism until I was about 16, and it was then that I happened to read those two very famous works, those two very famous Buddhist texts or scriptures, the Diamond Sutra, and the Sutra of Wei Lang, and these made a very deep impression upon me indeed. In fact I may even go so far as to say that through them I had my first glimpse as it were, of what we call in the Buddhist tradition, Perfect Vision. And it was from that time onwards, after reading those two works, after having that glimpse, that I started considering myself to be a Buddhist.

But it was fully two years before I came in contact, in direct personal contact with other Buddhists. For two years I was quite on my own, reading, learning, trying to understand, even eventually writing about Buddhism as well; but all on my own during this period no contact, no personal contact with other Buddhists; contact with Buddhism itself only through books. And at that time I was reading everything that I could possibly lay my hands on, on the subject of Buddhism, as well as on other forms of religion, spiritual tradition, and mysticism.

Now this, all this was of course, quite a number of years ago. I'm not going to tell you exactly how many, but it was quite a number of years ago. But I find, I find that that experience of mine is still the experience in this country of many people. Their first contact with Buddhism comes about through books, through literature, and personal contact with other Buddhists, or other people interested in Buddhism, or other people trying to follow the path of Buddhism that comes comparatively later. Sometimes it comes very much later indeed. I have even on occasion met people who've told me they were as it were on their own studying Buddhism, reading about it, even trying to practise meditation, without meeting any other Buddhists for 10, 12, 15 years.

People who live in remote parts of the country where there is no Buddhist group and where there is no direct contact available of any kind.

Now we know that we all tend to be conditioned by our experience. And especially do we tend to be conditioned by our early experience, and this holds good even of our experience of Buddhism itself, at least it holds good for a time. Suppose we have become accustomed to treading the Path alone, entirely on our own; suppose we have become accustomed to studying alone, even meditating alone, thinking all the time our own thoughts; communing as it were with ourselves, not having the opportunity of exchange of thought, real communication with any other similar like-minded person. Suppose that is the state of affairs. Then, we may find that even after we have succeeded in contacting or have just happened to contact other Buddhists, we may still find ourselves tending to continue in the same sort of way. We may even find ourselves wondering, even after coming into contact with other Buddhists, with a group perhaps, even find ourselves wondering if it's necessary to belong, to join a Buddhist group at all. We may not in fact feel like joining one. It may simply be of course that we're not particularly attracted by the groups that we know, at least some of them; maybe we've gone along once or twice, and maybe the members, the people that we've met there, even though quite good people, even though all Buddhists perhaps, maybe they've seemed just a bit dull, or perhaps they've seemed a bit neurotic, or maybe they've seemed a bit quarrelsome, or a bit too conventional, or a bit too elderly, or maybe a bit too young. Because we may say after all, one does not necessarily like other people just because they happen to be following the same teaching that you're following yourself. The personal factor enters in and plays a very important role.

On the other hand, there's another kind of case. One might have belonged to a Buddhist group of one sort or another for quite a time, and one might have derived a considerable benefit from that group. One might have been going faithfully along to lectures, meditation classes and so on for quite a few years, and apparently one has made quite steady regular progress. But nevertheless one day, one might start thinking: Perhaps it would be better for one to be on one's own, at least for a bit. One might feel a bit tired of always being with other people; Always talking with other people, studying with other people, meditating with other people, listening to lectures with other people, hearing other people talk about Buddhism, always having other people around.

Or it may be that you've had perhaps more than your fair share of organizational responsibility; maybe you've been helping to run the group for quite a while; maybe you've been secretary, maybe you've been treasurer, or maybe you've been a committee member; maybe you've had to hire halls, and maybe you've had to organize printing, and maybe all sorts of other things of that sort, so you've got a bit tired of it, and you think "Well maybe I'd be better off spiritually for a bit on my own". Or again, it may be that as a result of being a member of the group, as a result of all that meditation, as a result of what you understood, as a result of your contact, even your communication with other people, certain things have started coming up. Those psychic depths have started moving, at least have started stirring, and you feel all sorts of strange uncomfortable, uneasy, maybe faintly terrifying things beginning to bubble up. And there's something in yourself that doesn't want all this to bubble up, so you start thinking- "Well, this won't do at all, we can't have this. Let's put the lids down on it all. This is just too much to face". So you leave the group.

You leave the group because you are unable to face those problems, those personal problems, those raw truths about yourself, which are beginning to become evident in the context of the life of the group, and the sort of pressure, the sort of psychic and the spiritual pressure even that the group exerts upon its individual members. But whatever the reason, whether one just wants to be on one's own for a bit, or whether one has had a bit too much of the organizational side of things, or whether one is just not willing, not ready to face up to one's own emerging problems, one wants to be on one's own, at least for a while. So it's in this sort of way that there arises the question with which we're concerned tonight. And that is the question of the individual and the spiritual community.

And this question of course arises, again we must remind ourselves, within the context of the Higher Evolution of the Individual. Let's go back for a minute to the first lecture in the series, there we saw that the Higher Evolution, the Higher Evolution of man, the Higher Evolution of the Individual consists essentially in a development of consciousness, of awareness. We saw that there are four main stages, four great stages, of development of consciousness, of awareness.

There's first of all, simple consciousness which we share with the animals; then there's self- consciousness, of which we possess at present only the bare rudiments; then there's transcendental consciousness, which for the most part we just haven't developed at all yet; and finally there's absolute consciousness, which is altogether beyond our ken at the moment.

Now for the time being, that is to say, within the context of this series of lectures, we are concerned much more with the development of the second and third stages of consciousness, that is to say with the development of self consciousness, leading to the development of transcendental consciousness. Recapitulating very very briefly indeed, by self consciousness, we mean "seeing ourselves as we really are". By transcendental consciousness, we mean "seeing the world as it really is. Seeing really, seeing truly, or if one likes, seeing reality".

Now the development even of these two stages, leaving aside absolute consciousness, the development even of these two stages, the development out of one's simple consciousness, of self consciousness, out of one's self consciousness, of transcendental consciousness is very very difficult indeed, and no-one should underestimate that difficulty. As one tries, as one strives, as one struggles even, to develop self consciousness, transcendental consciousness, many questions, even many problems, practical, personal problems arise, and it's with some of these problems arising as one tries, as one strives to develop self consciousness, transcendental consciousness, as one tries to evolve, as one tries to follow the path of the Higher Evolution, it's with some of these problems, some of the most important of these problems, that this series of lectures and discussions is concerned.

Now we went on to say in our second lecture, that one of the most important problems that can possibly arise within this particular context, the context of the Higher Evolution, is connected with awareness, and is an important problem because awareness itself constitutes the main growing point of the Higher Evolution: unless there's awareness, there's no Higher Evolution; where there is awareness, there is Higher Evolution. To the extent ...

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