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The Pattern of Buddhist Life and Work

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 30: The Pattern of Buddhist Life and Work

Today's talk, as I think you were warned the week before last, is the last of a small group of three talks on the Sangha, that is to say the spiritual community, the third of the three jewels of Buddhism. And it also happens to be the end of our whole series that started at the beginning of the year, entitled `Introducing Buddhism'. Today that whole series at last comes to an end. As I've said, the series is called `Introducing Buddhism', so today it's as though the introductions were all over. By this time, as it were, we should have made the acquaintance of Buddhism; in fact by this time we should almost be on very good terms with it indeed.

No doubt for some of you this course of lectures or talks has been more of the nature of a re-introduction than an introduction; and sometimes I must admit that in the case of some people at least I was introducing them to someone they already knew. You probably know how embarrassing it is sometimes on social occasions when you say `Mr So-and-so, meet Miss So-and so' and they say `Oh, we know each other quite well.' So in some cases, I'm sure, it has been rather like that; I've been giving an introduction to Buddhism in some cases to people who already were acquainted with Buddhism. But for others no doubt it has constituted a real introduction; and in the case of others, therefore, I hope that through this series of talks they have been able to make the acquaintance of Buddhism at least, and perhaps even to come into closer contact with it than that.

Now today's talk, I may say frankly, is more or less or the nature of a sort of winding up. It's rather like, one might say, the talk, the little talk, the headmaster gives on the last day of term before holidays. Now some I can see haven't even waited for the headmaster's talk. They've already gone on holiday and left their empty chairs behind them. But never mind, no doubt they're remembering us wherever they may happen to be.

Now we're winding up today with a talk, as you probably already know, dealing with the pattern of Buddhist life and work. And I must ask you not to take this title too literally. Probably you've noticed in the course of the whole series some titles were not to be taken too literally. So today's title is also of this sort. It's more or less just a hook on which to hang certain ideas.

Now to begin with, you'll notice, no doubt, that one speaks of Buddhist life. And this draws our attention to a very important fact indeed: that Buddhism is concerned with life - or one might even say that Buddhism itself is life, that it's spiritual life, spiritual life in the sense of the higher evolution, about which we spoke quite a number of weeks ago. So if Buddhism is life, especially spiritual life, the higher evolution, one expects that a Buddhist is one who is at least alive, one who is at least spiritually alive, or one who is participating in the higher evolution. I don't want to be very personal, but in some cases one finds as one goes about from place to place looking at Buddhists, some of them at least, one would hardly think that a Buddhist was one who was alive. Sometimes one gets the feeling at meetings that people are just there; they may be physically there but not mentally, not spiritually there. They're not really alive to the meeting, not really alive to what is being said, not even alive to one another - and one might even say not even alive to themselves.

But this is really the most important thing of all, the most necessary thing, that to begin with someone who calls himself or herself a Buddhist should be alive, should vibrate, as it were, with life of a more spiritual quality. Everything else, one might say, is completely secondary. I might say by way of a little reminiscence in passing that this is one of the reasons why, when I was in India, I was so much attracted to the movement of conversion to Buddhism among the ex-Untouchables, and why I became so deeply involved in it. It's quite true that they were very poor - in fact are very poor; true that their economic condition is miserable, that they're largely illiterate, and that they have been repressed for centuries. But at least one thing one finds amongst them, and that is, they have plenty of enthusiasm, they're completely alive. When you go to a meeting of these people, or go to a village of these people, you find that they're very much alive, and that their involvement with Buddhism means a sort of enhancement, a refinement, of that life which they do already have.

I can remember, as I think I've often said, scores of occasions on which I've been to villages where the ex-Untouchables converted to Buddhism live. Sometimes one has gone by train and then by bus or by bullock-cart, then you go on foot, perhaps, and eventually you get to the village.

But before you get to the village, what happens? You are two miles away, very often, and you're received by a party of people, and the tradition is in those parts they dance you into the village - they're so enthusiastic, they're so pleased that you've come, that they sound a long brass trumpet and you get a party of twenty, thirty, forty young men - and older men too, no women, all men, with castanets, and they dance you into the village with a very energetic sort of dance with lots of stamping and banging of tambourines and rattling of castanets and all that sort of thing; and you really do get the impression that they're very glad to see you, that your coming amongst them really means something. They put flags out, especially the five-coloured Buddhist flag; some of them decorate their houses; and some of them make all sorts of chalk designs in front of their doors - all that sort of thing.

And when they finally come together for the meeting, very late at night usually, everyone is interested, everyone is keen. Even the small children feel that, well, we're going to hear something about Buddhism, and this is a special occasion, and they're very enthusiastic and very alive.

But when one comes back to this country - I know we have our own traditions here, our own customs and our own way of doing things - but still one can't help feeling a very great contrast.

You're certainly not welcomed with tambourines and castanets, at least I wasn't. When I arrived at the airport there were just two or three people to meet me and I was taken in a car through the streets of London and arrived here, and that was that - and sooner or later I started giving my lectures and taking classes and so on.

And one does sometimes feel, even though one admits that the Buddhist movement in this country is very small, one might even say microscopic, one does sometimes feel that it could be just a little bit more alive, that those who call themselves Buddhists or who are interested in Buddhism could be perhaps just a little bit more enthusiastic. We've noticed this, as I've mentioned before, on the occasion of Vaishaka - certainly we noticed it last year, not so much this year, at public meeting - not here but elsewhere - we noticed that there wasn't perhaps quite enough enthusiasm or joy or real spirit of the occasion.

Now we know that conditions in this country, conditions in the West generally, are very difficult.

It's not easy to be enthusiastic. It's not easy to bubble, as it were, with spiritual life. There are all sorts of factors which militate against that sort of thing. Not least, we may say, most people are in the grip, one might say the deadly grip, of routine. I wonder if you've ever thought how much of your lives, how large a part of your lives, is really dominated, even dictated, just by the pattern of routine.

Now today's Sunday, so you're a bit free. Tomorrow's Whit Monday, so you really are off the leash this week, as it were. But Tuesday, what happens on Tuesday? Most of you go back to the office, back to your household chores - Tuesday you do this, Wednesday you do that, Thursday you do something else, Friday you go to see somebody, Saturday you do your shopping, Sunday you rest, and two weeks every year you have your little holiday, and that goes on year after year.

Then when you reach the age of 60 or 65, whatever it is nowadays, you retire, start drawing your old age pension, or senior citizen's pension, as they call it nowadays. In that way the whole of life goes on, just one long apparently everlasting routine. You're just doing the same sort of thing over and over and over again, and that is your life, a continual pattern of repetition. And one is in the grip of this, one can't break out of it. Even if one wanted to, there's all sorts of commitments, all sorts of responsibilities, all sorts of things you have to do on certain dates, places you have to be on certain dates, even thoughts you have to think on certain dates, or even emotions you have to feel on certain dates, or even certain hours.

So your whole life is sort of gripped by this rather deadly routine. So in circumstances like this, how is it possible to be spontaneous, to bubble with spiritual life? Routine, one might say, kills spontaneity, and without spontaneity there is very little life indeed. One might even goes so far as to say that life in fact is spontaneity, spontaneity is life. However, grave as the problem may be, difficult as it may be to solve, the awareness of the problem is always the first step towards its actual solution, so we won't say anything more about that this afternoon.

Now we know that every living thing, whether vegetable or animal or human, every living thing belongs to a certain level of development. Every living thing, from the highest to the lowest, from the humblest to the most exalted, has its own place in the scale of evolution, whether lower evolution or higher evolution. And every living thing, every living being, is ...

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