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Introducing Buddhism

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by Sangharakshita

Tape 8: Introducing Buddhism

In a talk delivered to teacher-training students, Sangharakshita tells the story of the Buddha's life, shows that there is no place for God in Buddhism, and explains the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. An excellent general introduction to Buddhism.

(70 minutes - 1966) ---oOo--- Perhaps I should begin with a few words about myself. I went out to India about 20, oh more than 21 years ago, and I remained out there uninterruptedly for just 20 years; mainly in India but also in Ceylon and Nepal, Sikkhim, Singapore and a few other places, but mostly in India. So when I came back to this country after being away for 24 years, not having paid any visit during that time, when I came back I noticed quite a number of changes. I don't suppose many of you are over 20 so you probably don't realise how very much this country has changed in the course of 20 years. When I came back, I must say (I don't want to go into details), I got quite a few surprises and even a few shocks at the changes which I saw. But there was one change which I welcomed very, very much indeed, one change which it gave me very great pleasure indeed to observe.

When I was a boy, when I was at school in this country, hardly ever, if at all, did we hear any mention of any religion other than Christianity. We had Bible class, we had Religious Instruction, we had all that, but so far as I recollect not one of our teachers at any time any pronounced a name of any other religion, whether it was Buddhism or Hinduism or even Judaism or even Islam. We just were not even given to understand that that there were any such religions in the world. Now that certainly isn't so today. 20 years later, or even less than 20 years later, a very great change has taken place. And now it would seem that all over the country in schools and institutions of various kinds, people's minds are becoming more and more open; and though they may themselves be quite pious, even quite ardent, quite convinced Christians, or even people quite convinced in the truth, say, of Humanism or some other system entirely, they do have a great interest in learning something about other religions, whether about Buddhism or Hinduism or Islam or any other religious system. And this I feel is a very, very welcome development.

Formerly, in ancient times, the world seemed a very vast place. People living in one country were almost completely ignorant or how people lived in other countries. Now that isn't so today.

Whether through books or through films, you are quite familiar with the way in which people live, say, in India, or China, or Australia, or New Guinea, or South America. All that sort of information is very, very easily available to you. So your mind becomes broader. You know much more about the culture, about the manners and customs and traditions of other countries than your forefathers did. You have a much broader and a much more cosmopolitan outlook. So it's only natural, indeed it's inevitable, that this development, this tendency, this great change should be extended also to the sphere of religion, that you should be interested in knowing not just your own faith, 'own' in the sense that it's the one that you were born into, but also the faiths, the beliefs, the religious practices of other people in other parts of the world. Despite many quite devastating setbacks from time to time, we can state I think, with some confidence, that as the years go by the human race is tending to become more and more one great family; more and more interconnected; even, we may say, more and more united. And perhaps the day will come when we see the development not only of a global government but of a global culture, even of global religious and spiritual aspirations. So we welcome therefore very much the development of this sort of tendency within the field of religious studies and religious interests.

I remember, when I was a boy, I was quite fond of poetry and especially of Tennyson and Browning at one time. And I remember there's one line of Browning which always struck me very forcibly, and that was: 'He knows not England who only England knows'. And I've certainly been Tape 4/page 1 able to verify the truth of this as a result of my own experiences in India and other countries.

When you know only your own country, your own customs, your own culture, you don't really know them because you've no standard of comparison. Knowledge, we may say, is essentially comparison. You come to know a thing, come to understand a thing by comparing it with another thing. If you know only one thing, you don't therefore even know that thing. So after spending 20 years in the East, I feel that I understand this country much better than I would have understood it had I remained here all the time. Because things I would have taken for granted I now see in comparison with different things of the same nature, of other countries, in a fresh, in a new light as it were. And I can appreciate and I can understand better and more deeply.

So it's just the same in the sphere of religion. One might say that you can't even understand your own religion except in relation to other religions. And this is one of the values, even for the religious person, of the study of other religions. Other religions even throw light upon your own.

You may not abandon your own, in fact you may be more firmly, more securely anchored in your own as a result of studying other religions, because you come to know your own religion better by way of comparison and by way of contrast.

So the wider you can increase your scope, the more out of religions, and faiths and philosophy you can draw in and understand and appreciate, the deeper will become even your own religious understanding and religious faith. Therefore it is, I feel, a very good and a very healthy sign that you, who are if you're anything are Christians, perhaps of various denominations, should have taken up the study of other religions including Buddhism. Buddhists, as we'll come to see later on, are usually quite open-minded about other religions. They are quite willing to learn about and to learn from other religions; and if that sort of attitude, if that sort of tendency can spread among Christians also, if they can come to know something about Buddhism, then it's surely to the good and the benefit of both faiths.

Not so many weeks ago I had the opportunity of meeting someone about whom you might have heard, and that is the Bishop of Woolwich. I don't know whether you have heard of him, perhaps you have. He's rather well-known, if not notorious, because he's written, as you no doubt know, a book called 'Honest to God', in which he has made the point that the traditional image of God must go. And I met him, as I have said, a few weeks ago, and we had a long discussion lasting about two and a half hours, and we did feel at the end of it that we did have quite a lot in common.

He's gone now to the United States to give some lectures, but just before we parted he said, "I look forward very much, after my return, to coming to see you at the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara".

So we are expecting to have him along here, to see us and have another talk fairly soon. So this is the way in which things are developing nowadays. Even 20 years ago the idea of a Christian Bishop calling on a Buddhist monk at a Buddhist Vihara would have been almost unthinkable; or if thinkable, even quite shocking. But that isn't the case any longer. As the world grows smaller, people are drawn closer and ever closer together. So that's how you all come to be sitting here this afternoon: because your minds are broadened as a result of these developments I've been speaking about, and you've come to try to understand, perhaps to appreciate, something about Buddhism.

Now obviously in the course of these 40 or 50 minutes one can't say very much about a great Faith like Buddhism, with a very vast and complicated teaching, with a history of two-thousand-five-hundred years, many schools, many systems, many traditions, and so on. One can only give a very brief and very simple, and therefore very inadequate, summary in the hope that that will spark off some interest in you and that you will pursue that interest later on by yourselves.

Now the word Buddhism comes from the word Buddha. The Buddha is the Founder of Buddhism just in the same way that Christ is the Founder of Christianity. The word 'Buddha' isn't really a proper name. It's really a title, just as 'Christ' is also a title. 'Christ', as you probably know, means 'the Anointed One'. So in the same way, 'Buddha' simply means 'the One who knows' or 'the One who is Enlightened'; or it's sometimes translated also as 'the One who is Awake', 'the One who is Aware'. The idea being that most people are asleep, as it were, or dreaming at best; subject to all Tape 4/page 2 sorts of illusions and delusions. And the Buddha, as we shall see later on, is one who has awoken from all those. So he's the Founder of Buddhism.

So let us just examine briefly the main facts of his life. You probably know already that the Buddha was an Indian, or perhaps not quite an Indian. He was born at a place called Lumbini, inside what is now Nepalese territory. You're students of history also, so you probably know that political boundaries fluctuate. So at present Lumbini is inside Nepal. A hundred years ago it was inside India; a hundred years before that, well probably it was back in Nepal again. But at present it is in Nepal, and the Buddha was born there roughly about 500 years before Christ. He was born into a rather aristocratic family. According ...

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