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Reflections on Going Forth

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by Sangharakshita

Tape 189: Reflections on Going Forth

Dharmacharis and Dharmacharinis. Those of you who have received and read the current Shabda will know that I was announced that I was going to speak this evening, either by way of giving a poetry reading or giving a talk. My original idea was to give a poetry reading and in particular my idea was that I should read a selection of my own on the topic of Going Forth. But on looking through my Complete Poems, I found that there are very few poems which could be described as having any connection ­ even a tenuous one ­ with the actual process of Going Forth. I then thought perhaps I could find somewhere in English Literature ­ in English Poetry ­ on Going Forth from this or that situation, but I didn't really meet with any success. So I was left with the other alternative of giving a talk. And I have to admit quite frankly I'm not really much inclined to give talks. I don't mind giving the occasional paper ­ reading the occasional paper. In many ways, the days of my giving talks, giving lectures are over. Though sometimes I say ­ usually over a meal at Madhyamaloka ­ that I reached my peak as a lecturer, (if one can call it that) was some ten or fifteen years ago. Though sometimes I think I was at my best some twenty- five to thirty years ago and I therefore sometimes say that as a speaker the FWBO has probably not often heard me at my best at all. My best probably belonged to a period, fortunately or unfortunately, before the FWBO was even started. I was, in that respect, well past my peak probably. I say this by way of introduction, partly so that you should not be expecting too much this evening. I am very, very aware ­ I am pleased to be aware ­ that nowadays within the Order we have some very, very good speakers indeed ­ both among Dharmacharis and Dharmacharinis. Some of them ­ most of you perhaps ­ will have heard quite recently. Sometimes I hope ­ sometimes I almost pray ­ that as the years go by, the dharmacharis and dharmacharinis as speakers, will be better than I ever was. I look forward to seeing that day.

So much for by way, as it were, preface. As I have also pointed out from time to time, that it's not enough for disciples to be as good as the teacher. The disciples, at least in certain respects, have to do better than the teacher ­ otherwise the movement doesn't grow. And ­ if in every generation ­ they do a little less well, then in a course of a few hundred years, you've got quite a degree, one might say, of degeneration and decline. So I expect each and every Order Member to do better than me, better than I have ever done, in at least a few respects, and then we can be quite sure ­ quite confident ­ about the future of our Order. And I say this partly by way of just a little bit of a reminder ­ but also so as to avoid having to begin my talk when my notes begin. Not only in the course of the book launch, but in the course of the little introduction, my opening has been sort of lifted out of my hands. So I wanted to create a little space between the two. Because otherwise it would seem really quite odd if immediately after Suvajra had said something, I had said exactly the same thing! But in the hope ­ well not exactly in the hope ­ but in a manner of speaking, in the expectation that, well you haven't exactly forgotten what he said but at least it's not quite so impressed upon your mind, I think.

I'm now, more or less, in the position to begin.

And this is the real beginning ­ the official beginning ­ according to my notes. On the 18th of August, 1947, I was in India. I was then staying in the little hill station of Kausali, which is situated in East Punjab. I'd been staying there, I think, for two or three weeks.

But anyway, that morning, I got up as usual. I think I must have meditated ­ we were meditating nearly every morning then and instead of putting on my usual clothes, I put on a saffron-coloured sarong and shirt. My friend and I had dyed our previously white sarongs and shirts the previous day. We dyed them with jeruva-mati (SP?) ­ a sort of red earth which is used for that purpose by Sadhus and ascetics in India. Also, the precious two or three days, we'd given away all our possessions and destroyed such identification papers as we had. Had breakfast with a friend and then went `forth'. I took with me, when I went forth, only the robes I was actually wearing, a blanket and as few books and notebooks. Among the books I remember, there was the Dhammapada ­ the one I had with me in fact for several years. So that was my `Going Forth' fifty years ago.

And as you've already been reminded, I was very young at the time. I was only one week short of my twenty-second birthday. So that ­ strictly speaking ­ I was just twenty- one when I went forth. And obviously this step what I took that day, on that occasion ­ that morning ­ was a very important one indeed for me. In going forth in that way, I was following as I thought ­ as I believed ­ in the footsteps of the Buddha. The Buddha too had Gone Forth from home to homelessness at an early age. Though, according to most traditions, not until he was twenty-nine. Though there are some grounds for thinking that it was actually when he was nineteen. But most accounts say twenty-nine. But at a relatively early age, he had left his family, his friends, his circle of acquaintances. He had given up his civil identity ­ if h wasn't actually a prince, he was the son of a leading citizen who cam from a patrician high-caste family. He gave all that up ­ he went forth from that. He went forth from ­ he renounced all worldly ambitions. He wasn't thinking in terms of conquest ­ in terms of extending the territory of his tribe or anything of that sort. He had no worldly ambitions. I suppose I was trying to do likewise, though I was only twenty-one, nearly twenty-two, I had had some experience of worldly life. I had recently, of course, had, well two or three years of wandering life. Before that, I had been in the army for three years and before that, I had been in local government for two years and before that, I had been in commerce for one year - and before that I had received what little schooling I ever did receive. So I had some experience of worldly life. But my experience of worldly life had not left with any worldly ambition. So I was trying to do what the Buddha had done ­ to Go Forth from all that. But that is not to say that at that time ­ least of all perhaps on that day ­ that I realised the full significance of what it was that I was doing. I can't really claim that at that time, I had a very deep understanding of what Going Forth really meant. Nonetheless, it did mark a turning point in my life, little as I did really understand its significance and thereafter, my life could not be the same. So now, fifty years later ­ almost to the day ­ I want to share with you just a few reflections on Going Forth. I want to place my own useful Going Forth within a broader context and I want to try to have a deeper understanding of its significance. I also want to explore with you tonight some of its more important aspects.

So ­ let us go back to the beginning. And the beginning for Buddhists ­ as Buddhists ­ is the Buddha's enlightenment beneath the Bodhi Tree. So, in what did that enlightenment consist? What it was ­ what it is in itself ­ is very difficult to say. In fact, one might say ­ it's impossible to say. It's beyond conception ­ beyond thought ­ but one say, in a manner of speaking provisionally ­ that he possessed three great aspects. First of all ­ there was the aspect of purity. In his enlightenment experience, the Buddha's mind was free from greed, from hatred and from delusion. And of course, it's very, very difficult even while we pronounce those words ­ even while we (so to speak, provisionally) describe the Buddha's enlightenment in those terms ­ in terms of freedom from greed, hatred and delusion. It's very difficult, if not impossible for us to frame an idea, really of what it's like to be free from those three mental states ­ because every moment of our waking consciousness (and of course when Buddhist think as well) they're conscious of elements of greed, elements of at least of aversion or dislike and of course, elements of delusion within our own minds. So imagine all those states of greed, hatred, delusion as not being there and something very pure and positive in their place is very, very difficult for us, but nonetheless, we have to make that effort. We have to try to see the Buddha's enlightenment as a state in which the Buddha's mind was totally free from greed, hatred and delusion ­ was perfectly pure. And then again, another great aspect ­ compassion.

We sometimes feel pity for others ­ for human beings who are suffering, pity for animals who suffer or are persecuted. But it's not so easy to feel even a glimmering of real compassion ­ because in the state of real compassion, there's no distinction between self and others. Or one can also say that in the state of compassion, one feels for others as for oneself. One does not experience the usual subject/object self and others dichotomy.

Again it's very difficult for us to form an idea even of a state of that kind ­ a state of compassion. But this, the Buddha's mind when he gained the state of enlightenment was a mind full of compassion in that sense. And then there's the aspect of wisdom in which the Buddha saw through ­ not from any limited point of view, not from any limited perspective, not in any distorted fashion ­ but as they really are. And again, it's very, very difficult for us to form a concept of a state of that kind. So purity, compassion, wisdom ­ these are the three great principle aspects so far as we can imagine of the Buddha's enlightenment.

But at the moment ...

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