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Buddhism and Culture

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 127: Buddhism and Culture - Page 1 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Lecture 127: Buddhism and Culture

Mr Chairman, Vangisa, and Friends, As you've just heard, in these eight lectures we're concerned with a subject of very great importance, we're concerned with transformation of life and transformation of world in the Sutra of Golden Light. And as we've also heard, as we've also been reminded we're now already half way through the whole series. And in the course of the last four weeks, we have covered quite a lot of ground. In the first lecture, we studied the growth of a Mahayana sutra, studied, that is to say, the growth, the evolution, the gradual development - as a literary document at least - of the Sutra of Golden Light. And we saw that it had as it were emerged over a period of some three hundred years, from the fifth century CE to the eighth century CE. And we saw that it had emerged from the vast floating mass of oral tradition, which was current in those days - oral tradition stemming, oral tradition descending, ultimately from the Buddha's own Teaching. The original nucleus, we saw, of the Sutra of Golden Light is chapter three of the existing text, the existing version, the chapter which is called the chapter of confession. And this chapter, the chapter of confession, as we saw in this first lecture, is the centre of energy, as it were, of the entire sutra. And this chapter, this centre of energy, attracted from the oral tradition the eighteen other chapters that make up the work in its final form.

In the second lecture, we immersed ourselves in the Bodhisattva's Dream. We allowed ourselves as it were to go to sleep and to dream, to dream a very beautiful dream, the Bodhisattva's dream. And the Bodhisattva in question was of course Ruciraketu. And his dream, the dream which he has in Chapter Three of the Sutra, his dream was the result of a problem with which he'd been struggling, the problem - as it was to him - of why the Buddha had such a short life. Now Ruciraketu has seen the answer to this problem; but he's not been able in the sutra as yet to assimilate that answer fully. And in the dream which he has, he sees a golden drum shining like the sun. He sees Buddhas everywhere, all sitting under jewel trees. And he sees a man in the form of a Brahmin beating on a drum. And while that Brahmin is beating on the drum, there come forth confessional verses.

In the third lecture we examined the spiritual significance of confession. We saw that confession is a very ancient Buddhist practice, going back to the earliest times, going back to the days of the Buddha himself.

We saw that it's common to all schools, common both to monks and to lay people. And we saw furthermore that confession was not just a verbal acknowledgement of something that you'd done or even something that you'd thought. Confession, we saw, real confession, genuine confession, was a profound spiritual experience. It was a sort of vomiting up of the evil that is within one. We further saw in that third lecture that it's the individual who confesses, that one confesses as an individual, not as a member of a group. And one confesses to other individuals: one confesses to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; more concretely, one confesses to the spiritual community. And one confesses everything; one holds nothing back; one is completely open. Not only that: one confesses as soon as possible; in fact one keeps up a constant, a continual confession. Confession in fact is an integral part of spiritual life and spiritual practice.

And above all perhaps - and this was something that seemed to strike a very sympathetic chord in the hearts and minds of quite a number of people - one confesses without any feeling of guilt. In fact we saw that unless one is free from feelings of guilt, one cannot in fact truly and genuinely confess.

In the fourth lecture, we looked at the protectors of the Dharma. And these protectors are of course the four great kings, the four great kings who in Chapter Six of the Sutra come forward and promise to protect the Sutra. We saw that they occupy the lowest of the six heavens of the plane of sensuous desire. They keep under control all the different classes of non-human beings. And they represent the forces of balance and harmony in the cosmos. We also saw that they submit themselves to the Dharma, submit themselves to the golden light, are receptive to the golden light. Therefore they represent the extremely important principle of spiritual hierarchy. They - the four great kings - accept the sovereignty of the transcendental energies that are above them, and they exercise sovereignty over the earthly energies that are below them.

Now in the course of the first four lectures we've also touched rather more incidentally on quite a number of other topics. We saw for instance what the Mahayana is, we saw what the sutra is. Something was said about the significance of the dream state. Also emphasis was placed on the fact that if we want to develop spiritually, if we want to be transformed, then we must be ready to die. We've also looked into the significance of the difference between the psychological, the spiritual and the transcendental. We examined briefly the characteristics of the true individual. And also we came to know how the ancient Buddhists saw the Universe. We understood the importance of giving. We learnt what a temple is. And we even learned how to recognise dragons.

Lecture 127: Buddhism and Culture - Page 2 __________________________________________________________________________________________________ So, as I said, we've covered in the course of these four weeks, these four lectures, quite a lot of ground.

So much ground, perhaps, that we have to be careful we don't forget what we are really basically concerned with. We're concerned with the golden light, the light of the Transcendental, the light of Truth, the light of Reality, the light of the Buddha; in fact with the light which is the Truth, is Reality, is the Buddha. And it's this golden light that transforms, that transforms life, that transforms self, that transforms the world. And life is transformed, self is transformed, when the individual develops, when the individual goes for Refuge, when he becomes receptive, totally receptive, to the influence, the paramount influence, of the golden light. When he - or she - cultivates skilful actions; when he becomes emotionally positive; when he experiences higher states of consciousness; when he develops higher spiritual insight and awareness. And in particular he is transformed when he transcends all his problems, when he dies to the old life, to the old self, and when he vomits up all the evil that is within him.

The world too is transformed when it becomes wholly receptive, totally receptive, to the golden light. But how does it become receptive? What is the world? The world, we may say, is the sum total of unenlightened human activities. That's the world. It's the sum total of our social, economic, political and cultural activities. It is agriculture, it's commerce, the arts, the sciences, medicine, law, government, administration, diplomacy, transport, communication, advertising, entertainment, sport. The world is all these things. Together, all these things make up the world. So how do they become receptive to the golden light? Well, they become receptive to the golden light by placing themselves at the service of the spiritual development of the individual, of the individual who is himself receptive to the golden light. But this may of course mean that they have to recognise that they cannot in fact be of any service to the individual in his spiritual development. In that case, they must then just quietly abolish themselves - that's the best service that they can render. So when all the different activities that make up the world have placed themselves at the service of the spiritual development of the individual, then the world will be transformed, transformed by the golden light. It will be a world - to paraphrase a well-known phrase - it will be a world fit for individuals to live in, a world that will help individuals to grow.

Now I've spoken of the different activities that make up the world making themselves receptive to the golden light by placing themselves at the disposal of the spiritual development of the individual, but this is only in a manner of speaking. After all, those activities are carried on by people; they don't carry themselves on. So it's therefore people who must make themselves receptive to the golden light. It's people who must place themselves at the service of the spiritual development of the individual. Only then will the world be transformed. Now the vast majority of people have no intention of doing anything of the sort.

They carry on with their particular kind of human activity without any reference to the golden light, without any reference to the spiritual development of the individual. And they will continue to do so. They will continue to go on making up the world.

So does this mean that nothing can be done? Does this mean that the world cannot be transformed ? By no means. The difficulty can be overcome. It can be overcome if - or when - teams of spiritually committed individuals take up different human activities, activities that at present make up the world. And these activities they must orient in the direction of the golden light; in other words, carry them on in such a way that they conduce to the spiritual development of all concerned - that is to say, to the spiritual development of those who actually carry the activities on, whatever they are, and also those who come into contact with those activities and those who are carrying them on in any way. And this must be done in ...

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