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Buddhism and the Language of Myth

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by Sangharakshita

... as I*ve said is a German scholar, he was a European, a Westerner, but we mustn*t think that this rationalistic, reason only type of presentation of Buddhism is found only in the West. It is found or is begun to be found also in the East, especially in some of the Theravada countries, and among English knowing Buddhists, including English knowing monks.

I remember in the course of my own travels, and adventures, and studies in the East, (?) myself that by Eastern Buddhists Buddhism is based on pure reason, or sometimes it has been said Buddhism is scientific. This is a popular ploy (?) nowadays, or that Buddhism anticipates modern science. Some Eastern Buddhists, they*ve written some very big books to demonstrate that all modern scientific discoveries including things like V (?) and atom bombs they*re all anticipated by the Buddha and thought out by Him, and if you*d studied the Abhidharma (?) you can find them all there. There*s a very popular sort of approach and presentation in some quarters in the East nowadays (?) and sometimes I even have been told by some Eastern Buddhists that modern science proves Buddhism. This again is a very popular point in lots of Buddhist magazines which are listed in the East. You find this sort of argument that (?) Buddhists sort of arbiter as it were that science has succeeded in proving Buddhism, that science demonstrates that Buddhism is true, Buddhism is a scientific religion, or sometimes it*s even said that Buddhism is pure science. Now this is all, I am afraid very naive indeed. It*s not of course that there are no non-rational elements in Buddhism in the Theravadin countries, there are plenty of these non-rational elements fortunately, otherwise Buddhism would have died in these countries long ago. To put the matter a little paradoxically, it*s better to have a bit of superstition rather than too much pure rationalism. You can perhaps compare rationalism to a garden made entirely of rock and gravel, it may look quite nice and neat and clean, a nice area of cement, and a few nice rocks, and pieces of stone dispersed here and there, and gravel walks, but no trees or no grass and no flowers. It may be quite beautiful in a way, at least quite functional and hygienic as it were, but though it may be beautiful it will be sterile, nothing will grow. But we may say on the other hand that superstition is rather like a garden which is full of weeds. Even though the weeds in a way are undesirable things, the fact that there are so many weeds, at least says that the soil is good, the soil is fertile. So we can make this sort of comparison, the rationalistic type of presentations is beautiful but sterile, rock and stone garden, were as a more superstitious sort of element, though much more needs to be weeded out, is rather like the garden with many weeds, which at least proves the fertility and richeess (?).

Now I sometimes find in the east that English knowing monks, especially in the Theravada countries are a bit ashamed of the non rational elements in popular Buddhism. I especially noticed this(?)saw in stance in Ceylon. I remember when I went first to Ceylon in 1945, I think it was, or end of 1944. I went one day to a temple not far from Columbo, and there was a courtyard, I entered that and immediately to the left there was a temple with all sorts of gods, goddesses, I thought `thats strange, perhaps I've made a mistake, maybe I hadn't come to a buddhist temple at all.' So I then went and looked at those images, and sure enough they were images of Hindu gods, there was, Shiva, Ganesha the elephant headed god, Lakshmi, sagitar(?) the Hindu god of war. I thought `thats strange very strange, I know* they're in a Buddhist temple how did they come to be here?' So a monk came up, a Buddhist monk came up(?) and he happened to meet me. So I asked him, `What are all these gods and goddesses doing here within the precinct of a Buddhist temple I thought only the Buddha would be found here?'. So he said, `Oh there just for the local people to worship, we dont worship them'. So this sort of attitude as it were, there just for the benefit of the laity, this I felt at the time, and still feel was a sort of a potentially dangerous situation. You get as it were, a rationalistic sangha, a rationalistic monastic order, and a superstitious laity. And in this way a sort of, what we may describe as schizophrenia of the Buddhist community develops. Not unlike, for instance the situation which you had in this country in the 18th century. When a clergy, the local parsons, even though they were continuing to administer the sacraments and preach, really a were really at heart sceptics and rationalists, but the people, the flock, the sheep in other words, they continued to believe firmly in Christianity. So the two were alienated from each other, as it were, and a sort of split in the religious community occurred. So this sort of situation I did find very much in Ceylon. Sometimes I found that when official Buddhism in Ceylon oppressed the nonrational elements, didn't allow them to fin d expression with in the field of Buddhism which was kept all clean and bleak and rational, then they found expression out side Buddhism. I remember in this instance a very interesting, a very lengthy correspondence which ensued in one of the best known Ceylonese Buddhist magazines, English Buddhist magazines on the subject of what they called a chroile. A chroile is what they call a Hindu temple in Ceylon, near south India. And according to this correspondence, which went on for a couple of years I think, more Hindu temples were being built in Ceylon than Buddhist temples. Year by year. And the number of Hindu temples were increasing proportionately - all the time. Now the population of Ceylon is predominately Buddhist not Hindu, Hindus are a minority, so how was it that more Hindu temples were being built, more temples for Hindu gods than for the Buddha. So it wasn't because `they were being built by Hindus but because Buddhists were building, lay Buddhists, that is to say ordinary Buddhists were building, not temples to the Buddha, but temples to these Hindu gods and goddesses. So why is this ? The reason is that the gods and goddesses of Hinduism were( ? ) than the rather rationalistic buddhas of official Ceylon Buddhism. These Hindu gods and goddesses correspond to those aspects of the Ceylonese psyche. We may say that the official Buddhism was unable to cope with, and did not in fact recognize.

So I think this is a very significant and interesting situation, which if we are not careful, or if the Ceylonese Buddhists are not careful, may well mark the beginning of the end of Buddhism in Ceylon. Now we mustn't go to the other extreme. We must ant deny that there is a rational element in Buddhism, in fact the rational element in Buddhism is very strong indeed, and we may go so far as to say, Buddhism is the most rational of all the great religions. But at the same time, And this is the point I want tof stress, It is by no means purely rational. A strong rational element, but not rationalistic, not exclusively rational After all we may ask ourselves what is Buddhism as teaching trying to do? Basically, essentially as a teaching Buddhism is trying to communicate what we can only describe as a mystery, is trying to communicate the mystery of Enlightenment, the mystery of the Buddha's Enlightenment, and trying to communicate that mystery, some hint or some glimpse, or some intimation of that mystery to unenlightened man, and trying to communicate it in such a way that unenlightened man to the measure of his ability to the measure of his capacity can actually participate in it. Now when Buddhism tries to communicate this mystery of the Buddha's Enlightenment to man, To unenlightened man he*s(it*s) obviously trying to communicate it to the whole man, not just to a part of him, but to man in his totality, in all his aspects, all his dimensions as it were, the whole being, the whole man. And man we know is not a simple being, man is a sort of composite being, to put it very simply, even crudely man consists of 3 things, there*s the head, there*s the heart, and there*s the hand. Man is these 3 things. There's the conscious surface we may say alternatively, and there are also the unconscious depths. So in order to communicate fully of the mystery of Enlightenment, of the Buddha's Enlightenment Buddhism has to get at as it were all of these, head, heart, hand, conscious surface and unconscious depths. Has to communicate with them all, and speak to them all as best it can, other wise there*s no real contact, no full contact, no full communication. If Buddhism is only the head, only the heart, or even only the hand. Now how does Buddhism get at the head, how does it communicate with the conscious mind? This is done by speaking the language of reason and knowledge, in this way it communicates the mystery of the Buddha's Enlightenment to the head, to the conscious mind. It makes use of concepts, makes use of diplomatic reasoning, it makes use of metaphysics, it makes use of philosophy, epistemology, psychology. In this way it communicates with the head. But how does it communicate with, how does it get at the heart? At the unconscious mind?How does it do this, because this also it must, if it is to communicate with the whole man., if it is to communicate fully and totally and convey to the whole man some glimpse, inclination of the mystery of the Buddha's Enlightenment. Now Buddhism gets at the heart of man, gets at the unconscious mind of man by speaking not the language of logic, not the language of concepts, of philosophy, of metaphysics, these touch only the head, it gets at the heart of the un at the unconscious mind of man by speaking another language., a different, an equally valid language, an equally powerful and important language, and this is the language of myth. And it speaks ...

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