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Is Religion Necessary

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 17: Is Religion Necessary?

Sangharakshita If you*ve seen the advertisement which was published, or if you*ve seen the calendar for the month on the notice board., you will know: already that this series is entitled `Introducing Buddhism.' Now this title, such a title, may come as a surprise to some people - even as a shock one might say, especially to the regular members, They might be thinking that, here we are, we*ve been studying Buddhism for a long time, quite a number of months, even several years, and we surely by. this time know it, at least the elements of the teaching quite well. So where is the need, they might be thinking for an introduction? It*s rather like. as it were going to a party, and your host says to you, `Oh, I*d like you to meet Mr So and So' and he introduces you, and you find it*s an old friend; it's someone that you*ve known very very well for a long time. So those of you who have been studying Buddhism for a number of months, even for a number of years, might feel rather in this way. You might feel that here you are being introduced as it were to Buddhism, when already, you*ve been acquainted with it, or perhaps on very friendly terms with it for quite a long time.

Some might be thinking, well, this idea of an introduction to Buddhism, a series introducing Buddhism is excellent for the novices, excellent for .the newcomers, but as for the old hands, those that come faithfully week after week for so long, is it really necessary, is it really essential to go over the same ground, again, and again and again. Now I might say that it isn*t a question of going over the same ground at all. In fact one might go so far as to say that it is really just the opposite. What one is really doing is asking the old hands as it were to see Buddhism, to see the Buddha*s teaching afresh. To see it as it were with new eyes.

Not just to see it as they*ve always seen it, but try to see it, as it were, as though they*ve never seen it before. Try to put behind them, if that*s possible, their old understanding of Buddhism, and just to try to see it objectively, as though they*ve never seen it in fact before.

Indeed the fact that we can think at all of even the most simple teachings, even the most elementary teachings of Buddhism as being old ground is significant. Because it means that instead of seeing the facts or the truths or the principles, with which the teachings which we refer to as `old ground* really refer, instead of trying to see them afresh and new, with a fresh mind, a new mind, we*re trying to approach them in terms of a previously acquired understanding. In other words, we*re not approaching them with the mind, the experience that we have now at this very moment, but with the mind and the experience that we had last week or the week before, or even the year before that, or even ten years ago. So what we have to do really is to keep our understanding, or our insight into Buddhism up to date. Not be living as it were on our past capital, not be living on the understanding of Buddhism which we had all these months, or even all those years but renewing it, making it fresh, hewer more living, even if necessary day by day, if ago possible, even minute by minute. There is a saying as you know, that `familiarity breeds contempt'. Well in this case, familiarity with Buddhism certainly won*t breed contempt, but certainly it may breed a sort of staleness; we might settle down in our understanding of Buddhism, think that we know it, and not make an effort to exert ourselves, and to really pierce into it, penetrate into it again, thinking that we*ve already understood it.

So instead of really confronting ourselves with the principles and the truths which the Buddha taught, we may really be confronting ourselves, and thereby limiting ourselves, with our own previous understanding of those principles, or of those truths. It is this that we must constantly be on our guard against, and in order to guard against it we have to constantly return, we have to go back again and again to fundamentals, to the basic things, to the principle teachings, and again and again re-examine them, to turn them over afresh in our minds; not to allow ourselves to think, `well, five years ago, I made a thorough study of say the five skandhas, the five aggregates, and I understood them quite well; and I remember what I understood then, so I understand the five aggregates'. Not that. But again, even this week, even today, to ask oneself, `Now what did the Buddha mean by the five aggregates? What does this teaching convey? What does it signify?' Because after five years of acquaintance with Buddhism, after five more years of the practice of Buddhism, one should have evolved a little bit more, one*s understanding should be a little clearer, a little brighter, so that if now, if today, one directs one*s attention, one directs one*s mind to the understanding of the five aggregates, that understanding should be a little more advanced than the one which you had five or ten years ago, however good that might have been. So instead of resting as it were on one*s laurels, instead of carrying over from the past the previous understanding, the understanding of the past, one should recreate an even better understanding from the present, and this is what one must do again and again and again, with all aspects of the teaching, both theoretical and practical. It*s just like taking the Refuges - I*ve often spoken about this. One takes the Refuges, one takes them very often, in the Buddhist tradition, in Buddhist countries, here also, as it were ceremonially one repeats in Pali `Buddham saranam gachami* `To the Buddha for Refuge I go: to the Dharma for Refuge I go; to the Sangha, for Refuge I go*. So one is as it were repeating these same words again and again. In the East they sometimes take them daily, even sometimes take them weekly. Some very pious people take them morning and evening. So it*s as though you*re doing the same thing over and over again. But in a sense you*re not, because in the interval between your two ceremonial takings of the Refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, your understanding of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, through your study and through your practice should have deepened, so you understand them better, and the better you understand them, the more effectively, the more deeply you can take Refuge. Your taking of Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha this week shouldn*t be the same as your taking Refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha last week or last month or last year, or ten years ago when you first became a Buddhist. If it is the same, if it means exactly the same to you, really so far as experience and understanding are concerned, it means you haven*t made any progress. So, in a sense, if one is progressing, though one takes the Refuges takes today, takes tomorrow, takes this week, takes next week, one isn*t really taking again in fact: one can say, one should never take again - one should just take, here and now. In other words, one should always take as though for the first time, with a certain freshness, a certain directness, a certain as it were, newness. And it*s the same with the study of the teachings as a whole. One mustn*t live, one mustn*t subsist upon one*s past understanding, one*s past practice, resting as I*ve said upon one*s laurels, but one should always approach the truths which are concerned, br the principles which are involved with a new and a fresh mind - approach them directly, as though one had never approached before. And in as much as one*s previous approaches, as in the case of one*s previous takings of the Refuge will have elevated one a little more, will have helped one to grow and develop a little more, then one*s study and one*s practice here and now, one*s attempt to understand certain of the principles and to apply them, will represent a certain advance, will go a little deeper, will carry you a little further.

So in this way your study of Buddhism and your practice of Buddhism will never become stale it will always be a. fresh, one might even say, a self-recreating thing constantly it will always in other words be new, and it will have therefore the freshness, and one might even say the wonder, and impressiveness of what is new. So something of this sort will be our approach in the new year, with our new series `Introducing Buddhism'. So far as the newcomers are concerned, the material covered or dealt with will be in the literal sense,, in the ordinary sense, quite new. But to the, what we might call the old-comers, as contrasting with the newcomers, to the old-comers, it shouldn*t all be old, it shouldn*t all be something they*ve heard before. It won*t of course be new, in the sense that it*s new to the newcomers, but to the old- comers we may say, the material, though in an ordinary sense it has been treated before, should be doubly new, because they should approach it with a new fresh mind, which has been fortified by the study and the practice of the previous years, but approaching the material directly, and seeing it as it were anew. So therefore, if, of course as I know there are, if there is anyone present, if anyone knows anything about Buddhism, or anyone thinks that they know anything about Buddhism, so far as this particular series is concerned they should just forget it. They might have been studying for years well let them put it all out of their conscious minds: what they remember about the Four Truths, Eightfold Path, pratitya samutpada, karma, Nirvana, Bodhisattva, meditation, ethics, Silas, let them put it all out of their minds, out of their consciousness. They won*t of course be able to put it out of their being, but that in fact is not wanted; but put it out of their conscious minds, out of their recollections, out of their memories, and make as it were, their minds as far as Buddhism ...

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