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Authority and the Individual in the New Society

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 138 - Authority and the Individual in the New Society

Mr Chairman and friends. As you have just heard, for the last, I was going to say ten days but I believe it is only nine days, it seemed like ten, we have been celebrating and when I say we have been celebrating, I mean the members of the Western Buddhist Order, our various 'Mitras' as we call them, our friends and our well-wishers from quite literally all over the place, not only from all over Great Britain but even several different parts of the world.

We have been celebrating in the course of these last nine or ten days, the opening of 'Sukhavati', which means, literally,'The Happy Land', or 'The Place of Bliss 'or 'The Abounding in Bliss'. And yesterday, we may say, our celebrations, rejoicings, our whole nine or ten day long festival, culminated in the dedication of our shrine room, or perhaps I should say, our shrine rooms, because we are lucky enough to have two.

Some Buddhist centres I am sorry to say, do not even have one, but we have two, a larger one and a smaller one and especially we dedicated the main shrine room, and dedicated its more than life-size image of Amitabha, the Buddha of the West, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Eternal Life and in the course of those celebrations as especially we remembered and appreciated all the work, all the hard work, that had gone into the creation of Sukhavati, we really did, in the depths of our hearts, rejoice in the merits of those who, with head and heart and hand had made this wonderful new place, Sukhavati possible.

A Sukhavati here in England, here in London, of all places in the East End, in Bethnal Green. Not even in comparatively respectable Westminster or Victoria but in Bethnal Green and we rejoiced very much that our new centre, our Sukhavati should be there. I -can re-assure any of you who were not present on any of those occasions, we really did rejoice.

But what is Sukhavati, really? What is it that we are really celebrating when we celebrate the opening of a place like Sukhavati. Reference has been made to the London Buddhist Centre, now open at Sukhavati.

But there is one thing about which at least we should be quite clear, which is that Sukhavati is not just another Buddhist centre, however big, it is not just a place where people can come along, once a week, or once a month or simply talk about Buddhism, simply discuss Buddhism, or where they can even come once a week or twice a month to listen to lectures, listen to talks given by people who have merely, who have simply read a lot of books about Buddhism. It is not intended to be that sort of place, And it is not even a place where one can come along occasionally and do what one might describe as a little therapeutic meditation, Not too much because that might be dangerous but just a little bit. I remember one very prominent Buddhist when I returned to England for the first time in 1964 a propos of meditation classes told me; "Don't let them meditate for more than five minutes, they can't stand it".

Well Sukhavati is not intended for that sort of thing, not a merely therapeutic meditation, not just a five minute meditation, so that, having done it, one can go home and carry on with one's so called normal life, exactly as before having taken your therapeutic or medicinal dose of Buddhism just to keep you going on in the same old way.

So Sukhavati, we hope, will serve a more noble function than that, a more radical, I might even say a more revolutionary function than that, just keeping people going, giving them their sort of meditational vitamins, so that they can stagger along on the path of worldliness for a few more days or a few more weeks, Sukhavati, as you have already heard from no less a person that the lips of the Chairman of the FWBO centre at Sukhavati is intended to be nothing less than the nucleus of a New Society. But again, what do we mean by that, what do we mean by 'a new society'? Nowadays there are all sorts of phrases that people like to use, all sorts of slogans in use, which people produce so flippantly, so easily, so smoothly, so glibly on all sorts of occasions from meetings like this to parties, and this expression this 'new society' is one of them, one hears it all over the place.

One hears it from one's friends, one hears it on the radio, if you switch on the radio, I expect you hear it on television or see it on television, I don't happen to own one so I don't know but I wouldn't mind vouching that you hear it and see it on the television too, the 'new society', its even the title of a popular weekly paper, the So what is this new society about which we hear so much and which Sukhavati is supposed to be" So far as we are concerned, so far as the FWBO is concerned, so far as Sukhavati itself is concerned a new society is nothing less than one which allows people to develop as human beings. The new society, or whatever structure we call the new society is as simple, as profound, as sublime and as radical thing as that. Its a new society that makes it easier for people to develop as human beings. It doesn't make it easier in the sense that it tries to do for people what they have to do, can only do for themselves.

It makes it easier, the new society makes it easier, for the people who live within it to develop as human beings in the sense of encouraging them to develop as human beings, providing facilities, providing opportunities and helping them rather than hindering them from developing, unlike the society in the midst of which we usually live which makes it in fact very difficult for us to develop even if we want to develop at all, far from actually helping us.

So the new society as exemplified by a foundation like that of Sukhavati, the new society Is that society, that environment, that social and spiritual, that context of fellowship with one another that makes it easier for us to evolve, which helps us to evolve, encourages us to evolve. So that instead of our energies being frittered away we can put all our energies into the process of our own development as human beings, instead of having, even in the case of those who do make an effort, instead of having to fritter away our energies just resisting the effect that society has upon us.

So much of our energy is spent just trying to keep society at bay, trying to resist its sort of oppressive, coercive, crushing influence and just to preserve a little piece of space for ourselves within which we can grow, within which we can develop. So much of our energy is used up in that sort of way, resisting all the counter-evolutionary forces. In an ideal society, in a situation like that of Sukhavati we don't have to do that, we don't have to be resisting all the time, we don't have to be on the defensive all the time. The greater part of our energies is liberated for the purpose, for the work of our own individual development in free association with other people, like-minded.

So the question arises, Sukhavati being a new society, or the nucleus of a new society in this way, how exactly is it, or in what way is it the nucleus of a new society? How does it work'? How does it function one might ask? One might even say that Sukhavati is already a new society in miniature. So what is it's structure? How does it work? How does it function? Well the basic answer is very simple because at the very heart of Sukhavati, at the very centre of Sukhavati there is what we call the spiritual community.

This might be a new expression at least in the sort of sense that we use it, for a number of you. So a spiritual community, according to our particular understanding or interpretation of this term , a spiritual community consists of individuals. No individuals, no spiritual community, no spiritual community, no individuals. So this is the first great point to be understood, that a spiritual community consists of individuals and you can no more have a spiritual community without individuals than you can have an omelette without eggs, broken or otherwise, So what so we mean by individuals, we say that the spiritual community consists of individuals but what do we mean by 'individuals'? By individuals we mean people who are truly human beings, that is to say self-conscious in the sense of being self-aware. Who are emotionally positive, whose energies flow freely and spontaneously, who accept responsibility for themselves, who accept responsibility for their own life, for their own growth, their own individual development and who act accordingly because they see such growth, such development being the most important thing in life for each and every human being and who therefore commit themselves wholeheartedly to the process of that individual development.

In more traditional, more Buddhistic terms the spiritual community the community of true human beings, real individuals, is the community of those who commit themselves to the Three Jewels, who as we say, go for refuge, who go for refuge to the Buddha, the Enlightened human teacher, who go for refuge to the Dharma, or teaching of the way leading to Enlightenment and who go for refuge to the Sangha, the spiritual fellowship, the real living. joyful spiritual fellowship of those practising the teaching and following the way and when we speak in terms of going for refuge we are not speaking simply of repeating the Refuge formula saying; "Buddham Saranam Gacchami, Dharmam Saranam Gacchami, Sangham Saranam Gacchami", just two or three times a year, on the occasion of some Buddhist festival as happens only too often in so many parts of the Buddhist world and even happens in some Buddhist groups here in the West.

By Going for Refuge one means actually committing oneself to the realisation of the ideal of Human Enlightenment in this very life and being prepared ...

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