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The Cosmic Significance of the Bodhisattva Ideal

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by Sangharakshita

The Higher Evolution of Man

Tape 81: The Cosmic Significance of the Bodhisattva Ideal Last week you may remember we started with a fragment of auto-biography, a little incident from the days when I stayed in South India. Tonight, I feel that I ought to be starting, in view of the general subject-matter of the lecture, with something richly imaginative, not to say even fanciful; possibly with a fairy tale or a piece of science fiction, or at least an extract from one or another of the Mahayana Sutras. But unfortunately I haven't been able to think up anything of this kind. So I am going to start this evening in a comparatively prosaic manner. I am going to start simply by reminding you, as in fact we have already been reminded, that this is the last lecture but one of our present series, of our present course. Those of you who have been coming along week by week will I am sure already have realised that we've covered even so far quite a vast amount of ground. It perhaps wouldn't be too much to say, wouldn't be too much to claim, that in the course of these past few weeks we have covered, in fact, practically the entire field, the entire area, of general human interest. But throughout, week by week, regardless of the apparent nature of the subject surveyed, regardless of the particular part of the area, or part of the field, throughout we have been concerned, above and beyond all else, concerned in one way or another with just one subject.

We've been concerned, that is to say, with the Higher Evolution of Man. And this means, as we've reminded ourselves more than once already, this means that we've been concerned essentially with ourselves; concerned with ourselves not just as vegetating pseudo-individuals, but concerned with ourselves as developing, as progressing from lower to higher and ever higher levels of being and consciousness, moving up that is to say in the evolutionary scale. Now we've been concerned, as you will have gathered too, with this process of the Higher Evolution from a number of different points of view; concerned with it as occurring at a number of different levels. And at this stage so far on in the course, with so much ground already covered, there can be no question of any detailed or even summary recapitulation. But before we start tonight, at least I'd like to indicate just in a very general way, the nature of the different contexts within which the subject of the Higher Evolution of Man has so far been considered.

Recapitulation We began, most of you I think remember, with Evolution: Lower and Higher. The Lower Evolution, we saw, represents all that Man has been, whereas the second, the Higher Evolution, represents all that he may become, can become, is in fact at present in process of becoming. One, the Lower Evolution, we saw, is a collective process whereas the other, the Higher Evolution, is an individual process. So at this stage, so as far as this initial lecture was concerned, the context we may say was scientific; more specifically, it was biological, or better still it was, we may say, biological and meta-biological.

In the second lecture, we studied The Axial Age and the Emergence of the New Man. The Axial Age, we came to understand, was the third great segment of human history; the first segment being the Promethean Age; the second, the Age of Divine Kingship; and the fourth, the Age of Science and Technology. We further understood that the Axial Age is that highly creative period beginning around 800 BC and concluding around 200 BC. It was during this period, we also saw, that the Higher Evolution of humanity really began. This was the period of the emergence, in a number of different parts of the world, of the New Man. That is to say the emergence of Man as an Individual, of Man as characterised by such qualities as self consciousness or awareness, true as distinct from false individuality, by creativity, also by aloneness, and not un-often by unpopularity. So, so far as this lecture was concerned, the context was we may say anthropological and historical.

Then in the third lecture we went on to consider Art and the Spiritual Life. We saw that the artist, the true artist at least, the man of artistic genius, is himself a kind, a variety of New Man. His artistic creations, we saw, are the expression, are the outward form, the outward utterance, of a state of consciousness, of being even, higher than that accessible to the average man. And enjoying these works of art, participating in these works of art, being influenced by them, even inspired by Lecture 81 - The Cosmic Significance of the Bodhisattva Ideal - Page 1 - them, our own consciousness, the consciousness of humanity at large we may say is imperceptibly elevated. So here, in this lecture, the context is of course clearly artistic.

Then in the fourth lecture, we devoted ourselves to Religion: Ethnic and Universal. We started by discussing the factors responsible for the disappearance of Buddhism from India. One of the most important of these factors, we saw, was the partial absorption of Buddhism by Hinduism. And this factor led us to distinguish between Ethnic Religion on the one hand, and Universal Religion on the other. Ethnic religion, we saw, is collective, belonging more to the Lower Evolution, even though it does have its branches in the Higher Evolution as well. And the second, the Universal religion, we saw was individual and as such belonging to the Higher Evolution, even though having at the same time roots deep down in Ethnic religion, in the Lower Evolution. We then went on to classify the various individual religions. We saw, for example, that Confucianism, Shinto, Hinduism, Judaism, were all Ethnic religions, whereas Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, were Universal. So in this lecture, the context was clearly that of Religion in general, or we may say even of Comparative Religion.

Our next lecture was on Buddhism as the Path of the Higher Evolution. Here we were at pains to point out that Buddhism was not a philosophy in the sense of a system of abstract thought, and not a religion either in the popular conventional sense of this term. Buddhism, we saw, was in reality nothing other than the Path of the Higher Evolution itself, representing we may say the evolutionary process become as it were self conscious, aware, conscious of itself. And this reading, this interpretation of Buddhism, as it were, we saw was borne out by the Buddha's reply to Mahaprajapati, his aunt and foster-mother, when she asked him for a criterion by which to know what was really and truly his Teaching, and what was not. And he gave her, we saw, a purely pragmatic criterion, saying in effect that whatever conduced to the Higher Evolution of the Individual was to be considered as part and parcel of his Teaching. And this reading, this interpretation of Buddhism, was borne out also we saw by the account of the Buddha's Vision, soon after his Enlightenment when he looked forth over the whole world, of the entire mass of humanity, all human beings, as being like a bed of lotus flowers, that is to say in various stages of growth and development and unfoldment; some immersed still in the mire, others just rising clear of it, and others standing perfectly free with the sunlight upon their petals. But above all we saw that this reading, this interpretation of Buddhism, was borne out by, made clear by, that great figure of the Path, the Way to Enlightenment, which runs through the whole Teaching, which is in fact, we may say the whole Teaching. And that Path we saw has many forms, many formulations even, and we studied in detail one in particular, that is to say the one consisting of the Twelve Positive Links. We saw, for instance, how Man, or humanity, rose from the experience of suffering to faith, from faith to joy, from joy to rapture, and so on, up the spiral, up the stages of the path, one positive link in the chain succeeding another, right up to the threshold of Enlightenment, of Nirvana. And here, so far as this lecture was concerned, the context was that of Buddhism in general.

Now last week we dealt with Stream Entry: The Point of No Return. We saw that what we may term the Conditioned and the Unconditioned each had its own gravitational field, as it were, and that these two gravitational fields overlapped. And this fact gave us what we described as three areas. First of all an area within which there operates only the gravitational force, as it were, of the Conditioned. Secondly an area within which operate the gravitational forces of both the Conditioned and the Unconditioned. And thirdly an area within which there operates only the gravitational force of the Unconditioned. We saw that these areas correspond to the three traditional great sub-divisions of the whole path to Enlightenment; correspond that is to say to the stages of Morality, Meditation and Wisdom. And we discerned further that in the middle of the second area or stage, that is to say the area or stage where both forces are operative, there is what we called a point of equilibrium. That is to say a point where the two gravitational forces, that of the Conditioned and that of the Unconditioned, as it were balance, where even they cancel each other out. And we saw that if we take this point of equilibrium and if, then, we take the point next to the point of equilibrium and immediately succeeding it, then this second point is the Point of No Return, the point where the gravitational pull of the Unconditioned starts predominating over the gravitational pull of the Conditioned. And we saw that there are two ways of attaining this Point of No Return: a positive way and a negative way. The positive way, we saw, consists in the Lecture 81 - The Cosmic Significance of the Bodhisattva Ideal - Page 2 - cultivation of the ...

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