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Buddhism as the Path of the Higher Evolution

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by Sangharakshita

... distinctively human consciousness in the higher sense. And then we saw that each of these two sections can be subdivided. so that we have points 1(A) and 2(A). 1(A) represents the average human consciousness, half-way between the lowest human consciousness (represented by point 1) and the what we may describe as self-consciousness in the more highly developed human sense. Point 2(A) represents the highly artistic consciousness, the consciousness of the true artist or even of the artistic genius. In this way we find this section of the hypotenuse divides into four sections. Section (a) was the stage of no art at all, (b) was folk art, (c) was the level of the fine arts, and (d) was the level of supreme artistic achievement. We saw further that the majority of artists, the majority of artistic work, fell into the section 2 to 3, the majority of artists coming in (c) and just a few in (d), a very few indeed of whom - just a few, perhaps - penetrated, at least sometimes, even beyond point 3.

Last week we studied Religion: Ethnic and Universal. Once again, we covered an immense amount of ground. We took as our starting point the question of the disappearance of Buddhism from India. We saw that there were five principal reasons for this: 1. centralisation of monastic life; 2. dependence on and eventual failure of royal patronage; 3. hostility of the Brahmins; 4.

partial absorption of Buddhism by Hinduism; and 5. the Muslim invasion. We then went on to consider the characteristics of Ethnic Religion and of Universal Religion. We saw that ethnic religion was basically collective, practised by Man not as an individual but as a member of a group, of a community; and we saw that Universal religion was individual, practised by the individual as such, not practised by the individual as a member of a group. We then proceeded to classify existing religions. We saw that Hinduism, Judaism, Confucianism, and Shinto, for instance, were all ethnic religions and that they belonged as such to the Lower Evolution of Man.

Then we saw that Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, were universal religions and belonged, therefore, to the Higher Evolution. We touched on various other points as well. We saw that universal religions always emerge, arise, in the midst of ethnic religions, and that they are in some sense continuous with them. The universal religion speaks the language, as it were, of the ethnic religion in whose midst it arises. In so doing it refines that language but at the same time there is a danger; that danger being embodied in the rule, or the law, if you like, that a universal religion becomes - inevitably, it seems - in course of time transformed into an ethnic religion. It becomes not individual any longer but collective. We saw that this had happened with Christianity, saw that this had happened with Buddhism, due to the operation of what I called the gravitational pull. At the same tine we saw that the universal religion cannot cut itself off completely from the ethnic. The universal religion has its roots deep down in the ethnic, just as the Higher Evolution has its roots in the Lower Evolution. We saw, too, the importance of continuity, how it was important that the universal religion should be in complete continuity with the ethnic religion, so that one can look back, as it were, over one's previous spiritual, religious history - the spiritual, the religious history of the community, the nation - and trace it right back to the beginnings. And we saw that so far as the West is concerned that continuity of religious life had been sadly interrupted by militant Christianity which sought to destroy Paganism wherever it penetrated. And we saw, too, that nowadays it is important for us in the West to try to establish or re-establish contact with our pre-Christian, Pagan roots. I even went so far as to say that there must be, in a sense, a revival of paganism and only then could Buddhism flourish, on the principle of `no root - no flower'. And it was on this rather provocative note that we closed last week. So, so much for the first four lectures. I am sorry to have hurried you through all this material so rapidly but we really must get on now to the subject matter of the evening.

Buddhism As the Path of the Higher Evolution We come tonight, of course, to the beginning of the second half of the course, to the subject of with the subject of the Higher Evolution. But you may have noticed that each week we have been concerned with it within a more and more restricted field or context. In the first lecture we were concerned with the whole evolutionary process, both the lower evolution and the higher evolution; which means that we were concerned with a period of hundreds of millions of years, beginning with the first dawnings of life upon this planet, right up to Man at the highest conceivable pitch of his development. In the second lecture we were concerned with a much more limited period. We were concerned with a period of human history which is a period of simply half a million years, and within this period we were concerned especially with the Axial Age - and so on. I am not going to apply this to the remaining lectures. But I want just to emphasise, to draw attention to this point: that each week we have been concerned with a more and more restricted field, a more and more restricted context.

At the same time we have found, you may have noticed, that the more restricted the context, the higher the level. In other words, our journey, week by week, has been not along a straight line, on a level as it were; not even up the hypotenuse of a triangle, as our chart has suggested. Our journey week by week, our progress, has been up rather the side of a pyramid, if you like up the side of a mountain, so that the higher we climb, the narrower becomes the diameter of the pyramid, of the mountain, or the peak up which we are climbing. So eventually, as we progress further, as we progress higher, eventually we shall find ourselves standing on simply a pin-point, right at the top, with only empty space, only the sky as it were, only infinity above us. But that is not tonight.

Tonight we shall be dealing, for the first time, specifically with Buddhism. So far we have been concerned with much more general considerations. But tonight we begin to be concerned with Buddhism specifically. We shall not be concerned with it, not be dealing with it, technically.

Certain important items of Buddhist teaching will be introduced in the course of the lecture but we shall try to express them directly in English, which isn't very easy, without going through the medium of Pali or Sanskrit, or Chinese or Japanese or Tibetan, or any other of those rather puzzling oriental languages. Those who are interested in knowing the technical terms in the original, will find them in one or another of my books.

Now the first question that confronts us when we come to Buddhism, very naturally, is: What is Buddhism? It is a question that people very often ask. I have often been asked it, some of you may have been asked it, too. What is Buddhism? People have all sorts of strange ideas, all sorts of suspicions even, one may say. They wonder all sorts of things about it. They wonder, for instance, whether it is an Eastern cult of idol worship - this is some people's impression; or a system of philosophy; or a code of ethics, of good behaviour; or a way of life; or perhaps a collection of oriental fairytales. In particular, of course, people wonder whether or not Buddhism is a religion. Whether Buddhism is or is not a religion is to a very great extent just a question of definition. If one defines religion in terms of belief in, worship of, a supreme being, a personal God, a Creator, as a dictionary defines the word `religion', then Buddhism very clearly is not a religion. But if one does not define religion in this way, if one defines religion more broadly, more loosely, more freely, more flexibly, then Buddhism can be considered as a religion, but a non-theistic religion, which of course for some people is a contradiction in terms. But I must admit, I must confess, that I prefer nowadays not to speak of Buddhism as a religion at all. I prefer not to use the terminology, even, of religion in connection with Buddhism at all. But I must admit it is very difficult to find an alternative for this word `religion'. But I think we must find an alternative somehow because the word `religion' seems to have, for many people at least, all the wrong connotations. As soon as one pronounces this word `religion', people cease to take you seriously it seems, sometimes. They at once start thinking of something narrow and stuffy and unpleasant and dogmatic. They start thinking, for instance, of the Lord's Day Observance Society. They start thinking of clergymen in dog-collars and fatuous grins.

I remember (this is a little recollection of mine) that soon after I returned to this country from India, a friend of mine took me to the cinema to see a film. And I remember that at a certain point in this film a clergyman appeared, his face appeared on the screen, and as soon as his face appeared on the screen everybody laughed. Now this I think is very significant. He didn't open his mouth, he didn't say anything, he didn't even look absurd or foolish. He was just a clergyman in a dog-collar, but as soon as people saw his face, everybody in the audience laughed. Well nowadays, it seems, they even laugh at the Pope. And one may say that when people start laughing at you, you are finished - because laughter is the great dissolver of projections. And this is why we find dictators and totalitarian regimes generally are often so hard on the satirical cartoonists. They can stand, perhaps, attacks, criticism, even savage criticism, but they cannot survive people's laughter. And this is perhaps why the ...

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