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Buddhism in England

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by Sangharakshita

... very very useful, ver very helpful indeed, not only in the monastic life, but even in the case of our spiritual life as lay Buddhists. We get a great deal of encouragement, or we can get, should get a great deal of encouragement and stimulation from our fellow Buddhists, those who are following the s:ame path, those who are aspiring to the realization of the same spiritual ideals. We find as Buddhists that our spiritual lives are not lived in isolation.

As Dunne says,'No man is an island entire unto himself.' We*re all linked, as it were, underground or under sea as it were, to the continent, to the larger life the life of the group. So our spiritual lives as Buddhists are part of the larger spiritual life of the group to which we may belong.

Now this particular group in our cases will either be this Vihara, the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara, it may be the Buddhist Society, or it may be some little provincial group in Birmingham, or at Oxford or in some other part of the country. Ultimately of course, it is what we call the whole Buddhist, or the whole English Buddhist movement in this country. This ultimately is the larger spiritual group to which we all belong. So we can*t really separate ourselves from it. If we want to lead a spiritual life as Buddhists in the fullest possible sense that we can. And the majority of English Buddhists of course in any case don*t want to separate themselves from that larger spiritual life of the group to which they belong, because they find it so very helpful.

At the same time there should be a word of warning, or at least of caution here; that is to say, we shouldn*t use the Buddhist group as what we may call a'symbiotic community substitute*.

Now what do we mean by that? Suppose someone*s rather lonely; they just live round the corner somewhere all on their own; don*t go to church of course; don*t belong to a club - perhaps it*s too expensive; don*t like sports or games; don*t even like chess; but they come to learn that there*s a nice little organization near at hand, nice people meet there every Sunday afternoon sometimes during the week. It*s quite pleasant to go along and have a little company, a little chat, and if you have to listen to the lecture also, well that*s perhaps a little price which no-one minds paying for the sake of the social amenities. So in this way, the Buddhist group comes to be used it may so happen as a sort of community substitute. One doesn*t belong to a real community, either because one lives in some little flat miles away from one*s place of business, one has no relations, no friends, no sort of social group to belong to, so one starts using the Buddhist group in this way. So up to a point of course this is in a sense legitimate, but to use it altogether as a sort of substitute in this way, isn*t quite what one has in mind. We*ll come back to this topic perhaps a little later on.

If the Buddhist group is properly used of course, it provides us with what we may describe as the immediate context of our spiritual life. Now as already has been made clear I hope in this series, there*s no spiritual life without self-awareness. You can have of course some sort of conventional religious life, without self-awareness, but you can*t have any really meaningful progressing, constantly progressing spiritual life without self-awareness.

In a sense one might even say the whole spiritual life is simply a process of progressive intensification of one* s self-awareness So that out of the very intensity of one*s self- awareness, as we saw a little while ago, I think it was last week, we reach the state of awareness as it were of non-self, or non-self awareness. However we*re not concerned with that this afternoon.

Now I*ve said that our spiritual life is bound up with that of the spiritual group or spiritual community to which we belong. Or putting it in Buddhist terminology, which may be more comprehensible to some of you, Going for Refuge as we call it, sarana is an essential and intrinsic part of being a Buddhist itself. You can*t be a Buddhist and go for Refuge to the Buddha, go for Refuge to the Dharma, and not go for Refuge to the Sangha. Going for Refuge to the Sangha therefore is an intrinsic part, part of the very definition as it were, of one*s being a Buddhist.

Now spiritual self-awareness should include therefore awareness of ourselves as members of the group to which we belong. If we*re not aware of ourselves as members of the spiritual group to which we belong, then we*re not really fully aware of ourselves. Because the fact of our membership of the group is part of the very definition of ourselves. So in this case it means the whole Buddhist movement in England. In other words, we can*t be really and truly spiritually self-aware of ourselves, unless we*re at the same time, aware of the movement to which we belong, of which we*re members, and of which in fact we are a part.

Now if we understand this, if we understand this movement, this Buddhist movement in England, understand something of its history, its significance its possible or probable destination, then we shall understand all the better what we as individual Buddhists are, what we*re trying to do, what we*re trying to accomplish. So that*s why we find it necessary to include in this particular series of talks Introducing Buddhism, one on Buddhism in England.

Now historically speaking we may say, Buddhism in England falls into three phases: there*s obviously the past, then there*s the present now, and then of course there*s the future. Let*s consider each of these in turn. First of all the past. Many people don*t know it, but Buddhism has been known in this country for well over a hundred years now, well over a century.

Before that of course there was complete, one might even say, fantastic ignorance of Buddhism in this country, as in all the other Western countries. I remember according to one early writer whom I read, I think it was at the beginning of the last century, I mean he write at the beginning of the last century, not that I read him at the beginning of the last century! According to that writer, the Buddha was non other than the Egyptian God Apis(?) which of course is the Egyptian Bull God, the white sacred bull. So the Buddha was identified by one early orientalist with Apis. During the second half of the 19th Century however, we may say, this dense ignorance began to be dispelled. During that time there were in this country a number of very distinguished oriental scholars, whom we usually call orientalists. The first of them, the earliest of them was Spence Hardy, who made a special study of monastic life in Ceylon. This study was published more than a hundred years ago. Then there was Childers, who was for several years, Governor-General of Ceylon, who learned Pali, who translated Buddhist scriptures from Pali into English, and also complied the first Pali-English dictionary.

And then of course there was Rhys Davids, the great Rhys Davids, who inaugurated the systematic translation as well as publication* of all the Pali Theravada texts, and who also launched the even greater dictionary the Pali Text*s Society*s Pali-English dictionary, besides founding the Pali Text Society itself.

So these three great scholars, these three orientalists, Spence Hardy, Childers and Rhys Davids, these of course were all workers in the field specifically of Pali Buddhist studies. At the same time we had in the field of Sanskrit Buddhist studies, Max Muller. His life work of course was rather of the study the edition and translation of the Rig Veda and various other Hindu works, but he also devoted a considerable amount of time and attention to Buddhist Sanskrit Texts - the Mahayana Sutras and so forth, and translated a number of them himself.

Then for. Chinese Buddhist studies, there is the well-known figure of Beale, who published his C?) of Buddhist Scriptures nearly a hundred years ago, including material which is still very valuable indeed. These are just a few, some of the greatest names in these fields.

There are also translations of works on Buddhism by various continental scholars, made into English. A number of Buddhist texts and scriptures were also translated into English about this period by various scholars working in or from different languages. One might just mention in passing Bishop Bigandey an Anglican Bishop in Burma who compiled an enormous work from Burmese and Pali sources, on the life and teachings of the Buddha. It*s a little out of date now as you can imagine, but it still is quite a valuable work and a very worthy effort for its time and period.

So in this way, a great deal of the Pali Canon carne to be translated into English, and a large number, well at least some Mahayana Sutras. And knowledge about Buddhism, knowledge of Buddhism, began to be introduced in this country. On the whole we can say that there were very serious, very considerable limitations.

This knowledge, knowledge derived from the books and translations, was on the whole confined to scholarly circles. Either the circles of the professional orientalist, people who were working in the East, or living in the East, and had an administrative interest in the religions of the people over whom they were ruling; or else, students, professional students of comparative religion in this country; or students of ancient thought and so on. So even though a certain amount of knowledge was disseminated during the latter half of the last century, it was mainly limited to these more scholarly circles. An important part was however played by. the Theosophical Society. The Theosophical Society as many of you know, was founded in the United States in 1873 by Madame Lavatsky and Colonel Alcott. And it very quickly spread to this, country. The Theosophical Society had, still has three main objects: ...

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