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The Nucleus of a New Society

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 133: The Nucleus of a New Society

Urgyen Sangharakshita Mr Chairman and Friends In the course of this present short series of lectures we are concerned, as many of you do already know, with four things, four great things in fact, which the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order has to offer the modern man and the modern woman; four things which are not only great things, things of fundamental importance in human life, but also four things which the world today greatly needs, perhaps needs more than ever.

In the first of these four lectures, we were concerned with `A Method of Personal Development' and we saw, rather broadly, that what we call, usually, 'meditation' was that method. We saw in the course of that lecture that as we practise meditation, as we have recourse to this particular method of personal development, we pass through successively higher stages, or if you like, states, of consciousness, of awareness; ultimately of insight. And I tried to summar these stages, these states, in plain English rather than in Sanskrit or in Pali by speaking of them, by describing them, in terms of the stages of integration, inspiration, permeation, and radiation.

In the second lecture, which followed two days later, we were concerned with A Vision of Human Existence, and we saw that this vision was the vision - the direct spiritual experience - of the Buddha, of the Enlightened One. And we saw that in that vision, that all-comprehending vision, everything whether material or mental was seen as essentially process, was seen as something conditioned, something arising not fortuitously, not by virtue of destiny or the will of God, but in dependence upon conditions which were essentially natural. And we saw further that there were two types of conditionality, which we've come to term 'the cyclical' and 'the spiral', and, corresponding to these two types of conditionality, we saw that there are two types of mind, two types of mental activity - what we call 'the reactive' and what we call 'the creative' - which means, simply, that we can function - that we can choose to function, decide to function - either reactively or creatively and more and more creatively. Can choose, that is to say can decide, either to remain on the wheel, the Wheel of Life, which turns round and round, or that we can follow the Path, climb the ladder, become the beautiful flowering plant with all its blossoms. We saw that the choice is before us; that we can either stagnate or grow, either deteriorate or develop.

Well, tonight we come to the third great thing that the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order has to offer; a third thing that modern man, modern woman, badly needs: The Nucleus of a New Society. Now let me say at once that there's quite a big difference between this subject - the nucleus of a new society - and the subjects with which we were concerned in the two previous lectures. In all four lectures, of course, we are concerned with what the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order - the FWBO, or, as we usually call it for short, simply 'The Friends' - has to offer; what it has to give. And it's only natural, in a way, that we should be concerned with what it has to offer, what it has to give. After all, our basic subject in this series is Buddhism: Buddhism for today and for tomorrow; and we may say that where Buddhism is, where the Dharma is (to use the more traditional term), there is giving; giving on all levels; giving of all kinds - material giving, psychological giving, cultural giving and, above all, spiritual giving - there's giving of every kind. Where there is no giving, where there is no generosity, where there is no sharing, we may say, there is no Buddhism, there is no Dharma. Giving, generosity, dana as we call it, is of the very essence of the Dharma. So, in these four lectures we're also concerned, in one way or another, with giving, with generosity, with sharing. We are concerned with what the FWBO, what the Friends, have to offer; what the Friends have to share. But we are concerned in the different lectures in different ways.

In the first two lectures we were concerned with a method of personal development and then with a vision of human existence, as we've already seen. But these two - these two subjects, these two topics - the method of personal development and the vision of human existence - they are, as it were, to some extent at least, external to the FWBO itself; they are distinct from it. We, as it were, have these two things. On the one hand, the FWBO itself, and, on the other, what it has to offer. In other words, a method of personal development and a vision of human existence. On the one hand you have those making the offering - those giving, those sharing - and on the other you have the offering, the gift, itself. But in the case of the present lecture, there's no such distinction.

We are concerned tonight with the nucleus of a new society, and it's the FWBO; the Friends; with the WBO; the Western Buddhist Order; which is that nucleus. So what is being offered tonight, what the FWBO has to offer tonight, is simply its own self; not something distinct from itself but itself. And this, Lecture 133: The Nucleus of a New Society Page 1 we may say, is real giving. In one of his poems Walt Whitman says 'When I give, I give myself.' You can give quite a lot, you can give time, you can give energy, you can give money, you can give ideas, you can give work, but not give yourself, but the greatest of all gifts is when you give yourself, totally. So, since tonight we are concerned with giving in a different kind of way, I propose to give a different kind of lecture. In fact, I'm not going to give a lecture at all! Now this doesn't mean to say that I'm going to sit down and dry up, and leave the rest of the proceedings to the chairman or to the audience; I'm going to give simply a talk - not a lecture, simply a talk - because that, I feel, is more appropriate to tonight's subject. And the talk is going to be just a little bit - to begin with - autobiographical. That is to say I'm going to do what some people would consider to be a rather unbuddhistic thing; I'm going to talk about myself. [Laughter] I'm going to tell you, in outline at least, how I came to start the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order and the Western Buddhist Order, and why I started them, what they are, and in what way they are the nucleus of a new society.

Now, as I think most of you know, probably nearly all of you know, I spent altogether some twenty years in the East. I spent a year in Ceylon; I spent a year in Singapore; eighteen years I spent in India, with little visits in between to Nepal and also to Sikkim. And all that time, during that quite long period of twenty years, I was studying and practising Buddhism, studying and practising the Dharma. I didn't take up with Buddhism in the East; in fact I went out to the East, I went out to India, already a Buddhist. I'd become a Buddhist at the age of sixteen, in London. I say 'I had become a Buddhist', but this is not really quite correct. It would be more correct to say that, about the age of sixteen, I realised that I was a Buddhist. Not only that, but realised that I had, in fact, been a Buddhist all the time. But I realised that I was a Buddhist and that I had been a Buddhist all the time, when I happened to read two quite remarkable Buddhist texts.

They are among the most famous of all Buddhist texts. The first was 'The Diamond Sutra', which is one of the shorter 'Perfection of Wisdom' texts, a very famous text, a very famous work, which is recited, which is meditated upon, commented upon, very widely all over the - especially Mahayana Buddhist - world, that is to say, China, Japan and Tibet; more especially perhaps in the Zen monasteries and centres.

So that was the first text which I read - 'The Diamond Sutra'. I'm not going to try to give you any idea about the contents of that Sutra; it's a remarkably profound sutra, and it deals basically with Sunyata, with Ultimate Reality, or, literally with The Void, and with the Wisdom that intuits the Void. The second work was what was then called 'The Sutra of Wei Lang'. Nowadays it's called 'The Sutra of Hui Neng', or sometimes even `The Platform Scripture'. And this is the basic text, in a sense, of the whole Ch'an or Zen tradition. It's a collection of discourses given by - and dialogues and exchanges with - the great Master Wei Lang or Hui Neng, the first of the Chinese Patriarchs of the Ch'an or Zen tradition.

So I'm not going to give you - in fact I can't very well give you - any idea about the contents of this particular work either; it goes beyond ideas; it's concerned with fundamental reality. But these two works, these two sutras - the Diamond Sutra and what we then called 'The Sutra of Wei Lang' - gave me, I may say, my first glimpse of the Transcendental, what we call in Buddhist terminology the lokuttara; that which is beyond the world, beyond the mundane, beyond the conditioned, which is hyper-cosmic, Transcendental: my first glimpse, in other words, of Perfect Vision. And from that time onwards I had no doubts, either about Buddhism, about the Dharma, or about the spiritual path. But I didn't meet any other Buddhist until I was eighteen; so for two years I was a Buddhist entirely on my own, surrounded by non-Buddhists and, believe me, in those days, non-Buddhists really were non-Buddhists; they'd never even heard of Buddhism, what to speak of not accepting it; they'd not even heard, in most cases, the very word 'Buddhism' itself. So for two years I was a Buddhist, a young Buddhist, very much in a non- Buddhist world, to be precise, in South London. At nineteen, I went to the East. And this was, of course, during the war. And, in the East, in India particularly, I had quite a number of different ...

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