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The Nucleus of a New Society

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by Sangharakshita

... adventures and experiences, both secular and spiritual.

Some of my earlier experiences, especially during my wandering period in South India, are recounted in a volume of memoirs which was published earlier this year called 'The Thousand Petalled Lotus'. So two years were spent in wandering in South India, or mainly in South India, and often on foot. And I lived at that time, and lived for quite a few years afterwards, like an Indian Sadhu; that is to say, I wore the saffron robes, I also had a begging bowl and I didn't even wear any shoes, and I walked in that way from place to place, meeting all sorts of people, staying sometimes here, sometimes there, sometimes under a tree, sometimes in a cave, and sometimes at a hospitable temple, or ashram as they are called, meeting all sorts of people, sometimes meeting great Indian - great Hindu especially - spiritual figures. Also, at about the same time, or at the end of that period rather, I visited Nepal. Some of you, I think, might have visited Nepal, but in those days Nepal was a very different country indeed. It was, at that time, a completely feudal country. There were no roads and no bridges worth mentioning and only two motor-cars in the Lecture 133: The Nucleus of a New Society Page 2 whole country: one belonging to the king and one belonging to the hereditary prime minister. Needless to say, I didn't ride in either of them! [Laughter] Though on a subsequent visit I did, but that is another story! Eventually - and I'm telescoping events of course, quite ruthlessly - eventually I settled in Kalimpong, And Kalimpong - the name is usually interpreted as meaning 'a skull capsized' or `a capsized skull' - a small town in the Eastern Himalayas, 4,000 ft above sea level, and from Kalimpong, from practically all quarters of Kalimpong, we had a wonderful view of the snow ranges of the Himalayas. I can see them in my mind's eye even as I speak. And among these snow ranges, among these snow peaks, is the second highest peak in the world - Kanchenjunga - which means 'The Five Treasures of the Snow'.

And one could see Kanchenjunga, except during the rainy season, almost every day, just standing there against the blue sky; way up, as it were, in the blue sky. The whole area, in fact, was a very, very inspiring area indeed. One could say that Kanchenjunga was a very inspiring sight; it certainly was; and especially when one saw it practically every day - one never got tired of looking at it - this great snowy peak right up there in the blue sky, with the clouds far below, wearing its white plume, very often, where the snow was blown off it by the winds. But the whole area was very, very inspiring. I remember the atmosphere was very, very clear. You could see, very often, for many, many miles. The atmosphere, in fact, was so clear - and I believe that of Tibet, which of course was very near, just a few miles away, was even clearer - so that in this very clear atmosphere everything stood out with greater vividness, with a very strange, almost hypnotic, vividness of colour. One seemed to see the colours much more clearly than one saw them down in the plains; much more clearly, certainly, than one sees them in this country - even in Brighton! [Laughter] And sometimes it seemed, especially just after the rains, as though everything was made of jewels, that one was living in a world made of jewels, the colours of everything were so bright and so vivid. The white, of course, the snowy white of the mountains, the intense blue of the blue sky, the vivid green of the vegetation, and the scarlet and the yellow and the blue of all the wonderful mountain flowers. And also the gay costumes of the people, whether they were Nepalese or whether they were Tibetans or Bhutanese or Sikkimese, or even Indians. The only people who weren't very colourful in appearance, I'm sorry to say, were the Europeans, especially the missionaries who usually wore black.

So in this world, made, as it were, of jewels, in Kalimpong, I lived for fourteen years, and I founded a small monastery there after seven years a small vihara; and I had people staying with me from time to time. And all during this period, during these fourteen years, I was getting deeper and deeper into the study and the practice of Buddhism. And I had, fortunately, contact with quite a number of teachers, especially teachers from Tibet, who were at that time beginning to come out, including some very great teachers indeed, and from them I was so fortunate as to receive various ordinations and initiations. But during those fourteen years I didn't stay all the time in Kalimpong, I sometimes went down to the plains, as it were just to see what it was like, at first. Went down sometimes to Calcutta, sometimes across the sub-continent to Bombay, and also to Delhi; visited sometimes the Buddhist holy places like Buddhagaya and Saranath and Lumbini and Rajgrha and Nalanda, and eventually, towards the end of the fourteen years, or rather during the second seven of the fourteen years, I became involved with a very big movement, that is to say the movement of mass-conversion of ex-untouchables, ex-untouchable Hindus, to Buddhism. That again is another story; a very lengthy story. But most of the time I spent in Kalimpong, and there I did, also, a certain amount of literary work, especially during the rainy season. I must say that I used to enjoy the rainy seasons in Kalimpong very, very much, it's a very beautiful season of the year; it's not cold, it's still quite warm, but all day, or most of the day, the rain simply comes down. You hear it just peacefully falling on the roof, peacefully falling on the leaves of the trees, peacefully falling on the crops in the fields; Just peacefully falling down. And everything becomes so quiet and so hushed. And of course there are no visitors, so you can get on with your work, you can get on with your meditation, you can get on with your writing. So the rainy season was my favourite time for quite a number of years, for writing. So this was my life; this was my life in India; this was my life in Kalimpong, for fourteen years. This was my life until 1964.

In 1964, or rather, towards the end of 1963 actually, I received an invitation from a body known as the English Sangha Trust, and they invited me to go to England, to go to London especially, on a visit. Now I'd kept up a certain amount of contact with Buddhists in London; I used to get Buddhist magazines occasionally and I used to get letters from various people, especially towards the end of my stay in Kalimpong, and I'd come to understand that at that time - and I'm speaking now of '62, '63, '64 - at that time, all was not well with the Buddhist movement in England, especially with the Buddhist movement in London. It was a very tiny movement; very, very much smaller than it is today; but unfortunately it had already become divided into two camps. And, unfortunately again, there was quite a strong feeling between the people belonging to these two different camps, to put it mildly. So some people, some friends, felt that my presence in England, my presence in London - at least for a while - might help to restore harmony. So this invitation was sent to me from the English Sangha Trust.

Lecture 133: The Nucleus of a New Society Page 3 Now the invitation came to me as quite a surprise. Here I was, as it were buried in Kalimpong, you could say; buried among my books and my meditations, and having no thought of ever returning to the West.

I said goodbye to the West. I wasn't coming back. I took it for granted that I was going to continue my life in India and I was going to die there; that I would never see the West again, never see England again; and then came this invitation. So I thought it over long and deeply. I discussed it with some of my friends; I discussed it with some of my teachers; and they all said, 'You should go'. For one reason or another, they all said, [Laughter] `You should go!'. Some said; 'It is your duty to go, because it would be good if you could restore harmony.' So I agreed that I would go; that I'd come back to England, see London once again. So in August 1964, after an absence of twenty years, almost to the day, I came back. Middle of August, 1964. It was the middle of August, but when I arrived at Heathrow, it was raining. But I didn't stay for four months as I originally had said I would stay; I didn't even stay for six months; I stayed for more than two years. The visit just seemed to get longer and longer, I couldn't seem to get away. So during that time, during that period of two years, I held meditation classes, I gave lots of lectures. Most of these classes were held, most of these lectures were given, at the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara in London, as well as at the premises of the Buddhist Society, Eccleston Square. And in addition I visited quite a number of Buddhist groups, most of them very, very small indeed, up and down the country. And it was at that time I started paying my monthly visit to Brighton - and this continued with a few interruptions, for quite a few years. Now, as I met people, as I came to understand what the situation was in England, in London; as I met English Buddhists; as I visited the little groups; I came to see that the Buddhist Movement in this country at that time - and remember I'm still talking about things as they were in 1964, '65, '66 - left quite a lot to be desired. At the same time I saw that there was a very great potential; that there was a great potential interest in the Dharma. So again, after thinking things over long and deeply and again consulting with friends, I decided that I'd stay in England and work for Buddhism in England and in the West permanently - or at least indefinitely. So I thought that before I did that, before I finally settled down, I should go back to India and say goodbye to my various ...

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