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Nature Man and Enlightenment

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 128: Nature, Man and Enlightenment - Page 1 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________ __ Lecture 128: Nature, Man and Enlightenment

For the last five weeks we've been exposing ourselves to the influence, to the quite potent influence, of the Golden Light; and in the course of these five weeks we may not have been exactly transformed - at least, not totally transformed - but the exposure will certainly have had at least some effect on us. We will have come to understand at least some things. One of the things that we will have come to understand is the fact that the Sutra of Golden Light is a Mahayana sutra. It's a sutra, a discourse of the Buddha, a scripture, that reflects and projects the spiritual ideals - if you like, the spiritual vision - of the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle, or better still the Great Way: the way that is, in principle, the way to supreme Enlightenment, to supreme Buddhahood, for all sentient beings.

Now there are in existence quite a number of Mahayana sutras, some of them existing in the original Sanskrit, others existing in both the original Sanskrit and in Chinese, Tibetan translations; some existing only in translation, but altogether there are several hundreds of these Mahayana sutras. And there are various kinds of Mahayana sutras. Some of the more important - if you like, some of the most important - of the Mahayana sutras are known as vaipulya sutras, and vaipulya means broad, vast, extensive; and some of these Mahayana sutras are so called, are called vaipulya sutras, not just because they are very lengthy - though some of them are very lengthy indeed; some of them amount practically to a whole thick volume, at least in the English translation. They are so called because they are broad and vast and extensive in scope, that is to say with respect to their subject matter; with respect to the topics with which they deal. And essentially, basically, the subject matter of each of these vaipulya sutras, these broad, vast, extensive sutras, is the total Dharma: that is to say, not just one particular subdivision of the teaching, not just one particular section, not even just one particular aspect, but the total Dharma, though each of the vaipulya sutras sees that total all-inclusive Dharma from its own special, its own distinctive, angle of vision; and perhaps also sees it in terms of the special needs, the special spiritual needs, of a particular class of followers.

Each of the vaipulya sutras is, therefore, complete in itself. It can be studied, it can be reflected on, even practised, without reference to any other sutra, without reference to any other formulation of the Dharma, at least so far as the spiritual needs of the student are concerned. If you want to study the sutra from a linguistic point of view or scholastic point of view, that's another matter, but from the spiritual point of view one can confine oneself quite sufficiently, quite satisfactorily, to just that one vaipulya sutra.

Now the Sutra of Golden Light does not in so many words style itself a vaipulya sutra. The expression vaipulya sutra is not part of its as it were official title. But there's no doubt that this is, in fact, what it is: it is a vaipulya sutra. To begin with, it's fairly extensive in size, and in content it's very extensive indeed. Like the other vaipulya sutras, the Sutra of Golden Light is in fact a whole world in itself, and the sutra itself, so to speak, knows this: knows that it is a whole world in itself. In the introduction, in the introductory chapter, the Buddha says: `I will make known this sutra, the profound Buddha region' - it's a whole region in itself, a Buddha region. `I will make known this sutra, the profound Buddha region, the marvellous mystery of all the Buddhas, for millions of aeons.' And in much the same way, in chapter 13, the sutra is spoken of as `the profound sphere of activity of the Buddha'. So for the last five weeks we've been exploring this world. We've been exploring the strange - it might sometimes have seemed even the bizarre - the strange and wonderful world of the Sutra of Golden Light. We've started becoming a little familiar with it, started becoming familiar with some, at least, of its more prominent features. We've learned to adjust ourselves to its time-scale. We've got used, even, to what might have appeared at first sight as its inconsistencies. And we've also learned to recognise some of the inhabitants of that world, the world of the Sutra of Golden Light.

To begin with, there is the friendly, familiar figure of Ananda. Ananda, as you know, is always there. He is always in attendance on the Buddha, he is always listening, he is always remembering, always storing up the teaching in his mind, in his heart, so that he can repeat it, so that he can teach it to the other disciples later on.

So there's the friendly, familiar figure of Ananda, who remembers the whole sutra, who was personally present when the events described in the sutra occurred. And then there's the Buddha, that is to say the Buddha, Sakyamuni. And then the Buddhas of the four directions. You may remember their names: Akshobya, Ratnaketu, Amitayus or Amitabha, and Dundubhisvara, the Lord of the Drum. Also we encountered, we met, Lecture 128: Nature, Man and Enlightenment - Page 2 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________ __ the Bodhisattva Ruciraketu, who had the wonderful dream. And then there was the brahmin Kaundinya. And in addition, various gods and goddesses. First there were the Four Great Kings, the four great kings that guard the four quarters, the four directions of space, the four directions of the universe: Dhrtarastra, Virudhaka, Virupaksa and Vaisravana. And then there were three goddesses: Sarasvati, Sri and Drdha, to say nothing of various non-human beings. There were dragons, yaksas, kimnaras and so on - many, many different kinds of non-human beings.

And we have become familiar not only with the inhabitants of this world of the Sutra of Golden Light; we have become familiar also with certain themes, with certain themes which resound again and again throughout the sutra, themes which may be enacted as it were on the stage of the sutra as well as being explicitly stated.

For instance, there's the theme of the Golden Light itself. There's the theme of transformation, and there's the theme of protection. For the last two weeks we've been particularly concerned with the theme of protection.

The week before last, the Four Great Kings came forward, and they promised to protect the sutra, and last week the great goddess Sarasvati came forward, and she promised to protect the sutra - or rather, promised to protect the monk who preached the sutra. So this week we are still concerned with the theme of protection.

This week another great goddess comes forward, and she too promises to protect the sutra, promises to protect the monk who preaches the sutra.

Now this theme of protection is closely connected with the theme of transformation. The world is transformed when it submits to the Golden Light, when it becomes receptive to the Golden Light, when it places all its resources at the disposal of the Golden Light, at the service of the development of the individual, that is to say of the individual who is himself receptive to the Golden Light or who is trying to be receptive to the Golden Light. The four great kings, as we saw the week before last, represent, or rather their promise represents, the general principle of transformation - transformation of the world, transformation through submission; in fact, the promise of the four great kings represents the principle, as we saw, of spiritual hierarchy. They submit to the sovereignty of the spiritual forces that are above them. They submit to the Transcendental, submit to the Golden Light. At the same time, they exercise sovereignty over the earthly forces that are below them.

The three goddesses, or rather their promises - the promises of the three goddesses - represent the transformation of three different departments of human activity: again, transformation through submission.

And, as we saw last week, Sarasvati's promise represents the transformation of culture. In the person of Sarasvati, culture surrenders its autonomy, as it were. Ethnic culture places itself at the service of universal religion, is ready to act as the medium of communication for the Golden Light. So this week another department of human activity is being transformed; another goddess is coming forward and promising to protect the sutra, promising to protect the monk who preaches the sutra.

Now the goddess who should have come forward this week is Sri - that is to say, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. In the sutra, chapter 8, the chapter on Sri, follows immediately after chapter 7, the chapter on Sarasvati. However, she - that is to say, Sri - will be coming forward next week, when we deal with Buddhist economics. This week it is Drdha, the earth goddess, who comes forward, because so far as these lectures are concerned it's more appropriate to deal with the goddesses in this order, that is to say first Sarasvati, then Drdha, and finally Sri. No disrespect, of course, is intended to the sutra. There's a definite reason why, in the sutra, the three goddesses appear in the order that they do. I'm not going to go into that tonight; some of you may be able to work it out for yourself. There are also going to be one or two other changes tonight. Last week I said quite a lot about the great goddess Sarasvati, quite a lot about her promise to protect the monk who preaches the sutra, but I said nothing about the monk himself. He remains simply an anonymous ...

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