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The Pattern of Buddhist Life and Work

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by Sangharakshita

... organised to function on its own particular level. It functions through various senses which enable it as it were to operate on that particular level, its own particular level. And in Pali and Sanskrit the senses are called the indriyas.

Now this word indriyas is a very interesting one, etymologically speaking; the etymology throws a great deal of light upon the meaning. Indriya, in Pali and in Sanskrit, denotes that which belongs to Indra. Now who is Indra? Indra is the chief of the gods, the ruler of the gods, one might even say the governor of the gods. So the indriyas are those things which pertain to Indra, the ruler. So therefore indriyas mean `governing or controlling principles'. And this is the Indian word, the Indo-Aryan word, for the senses. And the senses are called indriyas - these governing or controlling or dominating principles - because the whole of human life as we normally live it, is governed and controlled, is dominated, by the senses, by the five physical senses.

Now we don't usually realise this. We like to think that we're highly intellectual beings. We like to think that we act according to the dictates of reason and the higher emotions, and all that sort of thing. But it isn't usually like that; in fact it's very rarely like that. Usually most of the time we are in fact controlled, dominated, governed completely by these five senses.

Now what happens in the morning? We wake up. We've been asleep. During sleep the five senses have been as it were suspended; they've been in abeyance. But we wake up, we open our eyes, sleepily turn over, start becoming aware of the external world. So after we've sort of lain there or dozed there for a few minutes, what is our first thought? In the case of some people, first thought is: get up and make some tea; or have a cigarette. Why? Because the tongue wants to taste something. Or somebody else - what might they do? They might stretch out their hand and switch on the radio. Why? The ear wants to hear something. Or they might decide to have another five minutes in bed. Why? Because touch, another sense, wants to go on experiencing the softness and the warmth of the bed.

So this goes on all through the day. All through the day we're dominated, controlled, governed by the senses to a very large extent. We're walking down the street, we look into a shop window, see something attractive. At once the eye goes after that, is interested. And after the eye, of course, goes the mind. So this is happening all the time. All the time we're pulled, as it were, by the senses, and we identify ourselves therefore with the senses, with the physical body to which they belong, and function therefore most of the time largely on the purely physical plane. So this is the lot, this is the condition, of most people.

Now the word indriya is also used, in Buddhism at least, in another sense. It doesn't cover only the five physical senses which dominate and control us on the physical plane, or from the physical plane, but denotes also the five spiritual senses, five spiritual indriyas; these are also called, incidentally, in Pali and Sanskrit, just indriyas. And these five spiritual senses or spiritual indriyas are called sraddha - faith; prajna - wisdom; virya - energy or vigour; samadhi - concentration; smriti - mindfulness. Usually this set of five is referred to as the five spiritual faculties. Dr Conze translates it as the five cardinal virtues, which I think is a bit unfortunate, because it's really the same word as indriya meaning `sense' - so the five senses - except that they're not the five physical senses but the five spiritual sense or faculties.

And the fact that the same word is used for both sets, the physical and the spiritual, is very interesting, because it indicates, it suggests, that the two perform - the two sets perform - an analogous function. Just as the five physical senses govern and control and dominate physical life, in the same way the five spiritual senses govern and control and dominate spiritual life. Just as with the physical senses we find our way about the physical world, the world of matter as it were, with the five spiritual senses we find our way about the spiritual world - that is to say the world of mind, or the world of spirit.

Now we've got five fully developed physical senses. I don't think there's anyone here who's blind or dumb or deaf or anything of that sort - we've all got the five senses, physical senses, complete.

But what about the spiritual senses? The spiritual senses, we might say, are present but in an embryonic condition, are just little buds, you see, not even little foetuses, just little embryos, no bigger than that. So these must be developed; these five spiritual senses or faculties must be developed.

And it is this development of these five spiritual senses or faculties which corresponds to what we've spoken about earlier in this series of talks as the higher evolution. And it is also the development of these five spiritual senses or faculties which make up the pattern - here we come back to the title of today's talk - which make up the pattern of Buddhist life.

Now let's deal with each of them individually, one by one, the five spiritual faculties, or five spiritual senses, the development of which enables us to live spiritually, on the spiritual plane, to participate in the higher evolution.

First of all, sraddha or faith. Now some people, of course, are very surprised to find that there is any such thing at all as faith in Buddhism. They're very surprised indeed. Some people come into Buddhism, or come into contact with Buddhism, under the initial impression that Buddhism is all logic, all reason, all intellect. There's no feeling, as it were, no emotion, as it were, involved in Buddhism. So they're very surprised, as I say, to find in Buddhism such a thing as faith, sraddha. And this is perhaps, in the case of some at least, because they tend to confuse faith with belief.

Belief is usually defined as `accepting as true on authority something which one can never verify, or something which is even inherently absurd'. This is what belief is. But faith isn't like that, at least not in Buddhism. In Buddhism, we may say, sraddha, faith, covers the whole or the entire devotional or feeling aspect of the Buddhist teaching and the Buddhist life. In Buddhism we wouldn't say that faith was contrary to reason. We wouldn't even say that faith went beyond reason. Faith, we would say, is the emotional counterpart of reason. What you understand with your intelligence you must feel also with your emotions. So faith is that feeling with the emotions what you also understand with your intelligence; the two go together, you can't really separate them.

Specifically in Buddhism faith is faith in the Buddha, the Enlightened one; faith in the Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha, the way to Enlightened; and faith in the Sangha, the community, the spiritual community, of disciples treading that path, treading that way and trying to gain thereby Enlightenment. But faith in Buddhism is especially faith directed towards the Buddha himself.

The Buddha is in a sense fundamental to the other two jewels. The Sangha is the community of those practising the Dharma. But who taught the Dharma? The Buddha taught the Dharma. So you can reduce Sangha to Dharma and Dharma to Buddha. So faith in Buddhism is essentially faith in the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, himself - though it's not just belief, it's not even just feeling. We may say that faith, sraddha, in the Buddha, is the sort of emotional response which we have when we are confronted by the embodiment of Enlightenment.

One can be confronted in various ways. One can be confronted personally by some living person who is the embodiment of Enlightenment. One can be confronted through literature, by reading about someone who was such an embodiment. One can even be confronted in terms of art when one sees a picture or a statue, an image, of someone who was Enlightened.

This reminds me of a case, a story, which I think I have referred to before, but a long time ago; and this was of a Frenchwoman who was converted to Buddhism and who eventually even became a nun. Apparently it was in her student days. She was in France, she was in Paris, and she used to be very fond of visiting museums, art galleries and so on. And one day she happened to go along to a very famous museum in Paris of far Eastern art. And she told me one day that she was walking along the galleries and she just happened to turn and she saw an image of the Buddha. Now from her description I gather that it was a Khmer image of the Buddha, an image from the period of ancient Cambodian art, which is very famous indeed. You've got the Khmer Buddha's smile, there's a special type of smile which you see on these Khmer images. All the images of the Buddha have this faint and delicate, rather withdrawn smile, but the Khmer Buddha images are particularly famous for this very special type of smile, which is quite distinctive and quite peculiar.

So this woman said, this nun as she was then said, told me, that as soon as she saw this image - and she hadn't studied anything about Buddhism up till then - as soon as she saw this image, she was very strongly and very deeply impressed. And she asked herself, as it were on the spot, `Well, what is it which gives its expression to this image? What is it, as it were, that this image is trying to tell me? What depth, as it were, of spiritual experience does this image come from? What could the artist have experienced, what could the sculptor have experienced, to be able to express something like this? So she came across this, or she was confronted by this embodiment of Enlightenment in this form. And she was very deeply affected by it; in fact, the whole course of her subsequent life was changed. ...

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