Transcribing the oral tradition...

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Evolution - Lower and Higher

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by Sangharakshita

21: Evolution: lower and higher

Friends. The lectures which we've been having over the last few days, both live and tape recorded, have been independent - that is, they don't make up a series. As from today, as from this morning, we shall be having a series of talks. We shall develop a connected theme. And we shall be having them live every morning. The general title of the whole series is simply 'Introducing Buddhism'. That was the title of the very first talk we had. That introduced Buddhism from a rather different point of view, and very very briefly, but this will be a much more extended introduction which will try to take in a very much more Buddhist teaching, manage to give one a very much more detailed picture, a very much more comprehensive idea.

Today's talk has the title of 'Evolution: lower and higher', and the rather mysterious chart or diagram that you see on the blackboard is designed to illustrate certain points in that lecture, in fact it's designed to illustrate in a way the whole skeleton, the whole structure, of the talk this morning.

Now as we approach Buddhism, as we try to become acquainted with it, one of the things that strikes us first, perhaps, is the need, is the necessity, for taking of it, for taking of Buddhism, a very broad and a very general view. In fact it's necessary, we may say, for us to try and have of it the broadest and most general view possible - to see it, if we can, all spread out in front of us, as it were, at once. Nowadays we do find that so much of our knowledge is piecemeal. We know a little bit of this, we know a little bit of that, but all these little bits of knowledge don't link up.

There's no interconnection between them, they don't link up into a single system, a single network, of thought, a network of ideas. We know everything just in bits and pieces. This is the age, this is the era, of specialization. And you all know the well-known definition of the specialist: the man who knows more and more about less and less. And this is the predicament that only too often we find ourselves in.

And sometimes one is surprised when one is having contact with people to find how much they know about so little, and how much there is that doesn't fall within their purview at all. An engineer, for instance, may know all about engineering. He may be able to build you a bridge, if you want one, or a house, if you can afford one. But he knows absolutely nothing about the arts, perhaps never even heard of Shakespeare, certainly never heard of Salvador Dali or anyone like that - he's completely oblivious of all these things. And in the same way, if you take the artist, well, the artist might be able to paint you a picture, if you are able to commission one, or make you a pot. But probably the artist couldn't build you a bridge or design you a house or do something of that kind - again, completely oblivious. The politician knows only politics; the literary man knows only literature; the scientist knows only science; the man who follows the humanities knows only the humanities; the sociologist knows only sociology.

So this is the modern sort of tendency. We tend to cover just a very tiny field, you know, just a little bit, and we don't have any general, any all-embracing philosophy of life within which everything is included. And this sort of situation, this sort of problem, presents us, we may say, with an acute difficulty. People are not satisfied with having their knowledge piecemeal. They're not satisfied with these little bits and pieces. It's as though they had just four or five pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and all the rest of the pieces are missing, and they don't know what the picture is supposed to be - they've got little coloured bits, just two or three of them, they haven't got all the other pieces, so they haven't got a total picture of anything.

And therefore we often find nowadays that people are searching for a more comprehensive world view which will give some sort of meaning and some sort of significance to their lives. They want to find all the other bits of the jigsaw puzzle, and they want to put them all together, they want to build up a picture and see what it is all about. Otherwise they feel completely lost and completely confused, in the dark. So we find that people do go on searching. Sometimes they turn to the traditional systems of the past and the present, more authoritarian systems perhaps, which will profess to explain everything. They have an answer to every question. Some people, 1 for instance, in this way turn to the Roman Catholic church. They feel that the Roman Catholic church is an ancient and a venerable institution, and in the course of two thousand years it's worked out all the answers - it's got an answer to everything, from the immaculate conception to the pill. It knows all about everything. You've only got to buy a copy of the catechism and there it is - all the questions are there, all the answers are there, a complete philosophy of life.

So some people turn to this, and they find, perhaps, everything fitting in.

Others turn to Marxism in its various forms. Here also they find something comprehensive, something comparatively all-embracing, quite a grand sweep, that explains everything in simple terms, in terms of economics, in terms of supply, in terms of demand, and so on. And then again others turn to another quite comprehensive system: humanism. The humanistic movement, we know, nowdays is growing rapidly. You've even got humanistic marriages and humanistic christenings and humanistic burials now, which means that they're turning into a sort of religious system themselves. So some people do turn to these more comprehensive, more all-embracing systems, which do offer, or profess to offer, a whole complete philosophy of life, and to explain everything.

But others are not, perhaps, so easily satisfied. Even those who turn for some time to one or another of these systems are not altogether satisfied. Only too often they discover some inconsistency, some irrationality, some absurdity, something which they feel they can't accept, something which constitutes for them a stumbling block. Or else they find that there's some aspect of themselves, which they know very well because they experience it, which falls outside the system, and which the system just doesn't explain, which the system just doesn't satisfy. So therefore they decide to go on to something else, to continue the search, to continue looking. So sometimes they turn aside from these older, these larger, these more established movements and systems, and they try some of the smaller groups. Some may try, for instance, theosophy. Others may turn to spiritualism. In our own meetings up and down the country quite often we find we get spiritualists coming along, and very often they're a bit dissatisfied with spiritualism, and they're still looking for something more, something a little deeper, as it were. Others again turn to Christian Science, or they turn to Vedanta. Maybe the groups in which they become interested, and which they start investigating, become smaller and smaller; and eventually perhaps some of them turn to Buddhism, which of course in this country, and in the West generally, is a very small movement indeed.

So we find that this is the sort of quest, this is the sort of search, which is going on nowadays so far as a great number of people are concerned. They explore system after system, teaching after teaching, group after group, trying to find some consistent philosophy of life which will give meaning to their lives, which will validate their aspirations, which will make them feel positive and progressive. And some people change many many times. And I recollect in India I knew a woman who claimed to have changed her religion seventeen times. She'd started off as a Roman Catholic and she'd worked her way through the Vedanta and the Swedeborgian church, and the Ramakrishna Mission, and by the time I knew her she was a middle-aged woman, and at that time she was a Seventh Day Adventist. But she was dissatisfied even with that, and she was thinking of changing, but there was nothing else to change to. She'd been everything in the course of seventeen years. And she was dissatisfied with the Seventh Day Adventists' system because it prohibited the consumption of tea. And I remember a very amusing episode - this was whn I was in Kalimpong - when I was visiting her once and we were having a quiet and apparently simple cup of tea together, and suddenly there was a knock at the door and she turned pale. And she said, 'My God, that's the minister!' and she hid the teapot. And shortly after that we lost track of each other. I believe now she's in Australia, but which religion she now follows I just don't know.

We may laugh at all this, but in a way we even ought to cry, because we might say it is really very pathetic, because people are all the time searching for the truth. And it's only for this reason that they're searching, that they keep up the search, that they go through all these systems and all these groups. Now it may well be that some of you have had this sort of experience at least 2 to some extent. You might not have changed your faith seventeen times, but I imagine that quite a number of you have sampled in the course of your lives - in some cases not very long lives - at least two or three teachings. Some I know have been along to the School of Meditation and other groups functioning in London, and in this way, from this group to that group, one eventually, it appears, comes into contact with Buddhism.

Now when we encounter Buddhism we discover that Buddhism represents really a very comprehensive system of thought - I'm not very satisfied ...

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