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Authority and the Individual in the New Society

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by Sangharakshita

... to give up, to put aside whatever it is stands in the way.

This is what we mean by Going for Refuge and from, as I said, the more Buddhistic, traditional point of view the Spiritual Community is the community of those who Go for Refuge in this sense and that Spiritual Community which is at the heart, at the centre of Sukhavati, is a part, is a section if you like, a segment if you like of the Western Buddhist Order, even as the Western Buddhist Order itself is part, a segment of what is traditionally called the Sangha, the Spiritual Community of the Four Directions: North, South, East and West and the Three Periods of Time: past, present and future.

So what does this spiritual community which is at the heart and centre of Sukhavati and which is part of the Western Buddhist Order, do? What does it do? Essentially it does just one thing, it tries to create for itself and for others, conditions more conducive to human development, more conducive to spiritual development and it does this mainly in three ways, It does it in the first way by forming, as it were under the roof of the building called Sukhavati a resident spiritual community which as I think has already been mentioned by the Chairman will stabilise at about twenty-five people, at present there are about thirty-five.

Secondly, it creates opportunities for Right Means of Livelihood on a co-operative basis, this is the second thing it does and the third thing it does is providing meditation classes, courses in Buddhism, communication exercises, yoga and other methods of individual development.

And these three things, these things which Sukhavati tries to create, which the spiritual community at Sukhavati tries to create, as more conducive to human development, more conducive to spiritual development, for it's own benefit and the benefit of others. These three things correspond to three of the most important things in ordinary human life, things which on balance are not conducive to spiritual development. That is to say, in the first place the family, in the second place, work, in the ordinary work-a- day sense and in the third place ordinary leisure activities, The three sets of conditions which Sukhavati tries to create as conducive to human and spiritual development, as it were takes the place of these three things in a more positive way. It takes he place of family, work and leisure activities and by the family one means in this context, the claustrophobic, neurotic nuclear family, that is to say the monogamous couple with one or two children, car, television set, dog, cat and budgerigar and by work one means in this context, wage slavery or salary servitude which amounts to earning money in ways which are harmful to one's own development and which exploit others. By leisure activities one means activities which enable us simply to pass the time, to forget about work, to forget about the family too and maybe to forget about our own selves.

So Sukhavati comprises three things, three things which represent transformation of conditions which are not helpful in spiritual development into conditions which are helpful, that is to say the resident spiritual community, the co-operative, under the umbrella of which are conducted various Right Livelihood projects and thirdly a centre, i.e. the London Buddhist Centre where various methods of individual development are taught.

These three things between them constitute the nucleus of the new society, the spiritual community, the residential spiritual community that is, the Co-operative and the Centre. These three things between them, under the overall title of Sukhavati, constitute the nucleus of the new society and the first of these, the residential spiritual community has, of course, been in existence now for the last three years, has grown from the original half-dozen people up to about thirty-five and, as I mentioned a few moments ago, it is expected to stabilise at about twenty-five and it is this residential spiritual community, this spiritual community resident at Sukhavati, which, in the course of these last two years, has created the other two.

That is to say has created the Co-operative and the Centre, and the Right Livelihood projects under the overall umbrella of the Co-operative have been functioning now for two years, in may this year, I believe, they were brought under the umbrella of what is called the Pure Land Co-operative and as for the centre, that is to say the London Buddhist centre, that came into existence only yesterday with the dedication of the shrines and tomorrow itself it will be functioning with a full programme of activities, every evening there will be classes and courses, there will be some activities during the day, also at weekends.

So Sukhavati, therefore, in the full sense is now open and the nucleus, or at least a nucleus of the new society has been inaugurated and this it is that we have been celebrating, so joyfully in the course of these last nine or ten days, and is what I hope we will have more and more cause, more and more reason to celebrate as time goes on, And it is in connection with these celebrations, in a way as part of these celebrations that I would like to consider a very important question and that is the question of authority and the individual in the new society.

We have been talking about the new society, we have seen essentially what the new society is, what it consists in and how Sukhavati itself is the nucleus of a new society, the new society, so the question is what about authority in the new society, what about the individual in the new society? That is to say the new society as represented by Sukhavati with it's resident spiritual community, its co-operative and it's centre. So authority and the individual in the new society. This is the question we are going to give some attention to this evening. Probably it is the most important question to which, at this juncture we could possibly address ourselves. Its the question which is important not only for Sukhavati, not only for the Western Buddhist Order and the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, this question of authority and the individual, especially in the new society, is important for the whole world, important for the whole of humanity, So its this question that we are going to go into, at least briefly, this evening.

But before going into it there is another question, a practical question about which I would like to say something, and that is a question which might already have risen in the minds of some of you. That question is "How does one make the transition from the old society to the new?". That surely is a very practical question indeed. How does one make the transition from the old society to the new" Assuming the new, or at least the nucleus of the new to be already in existence. On the one hand the old society, so large, with so many ramifications in so many ways. On the other hand, the nucleus of the new society, as I have described it. So how does one pass from the one to the other'.' How does one make that all important transition, Well, fortunately, there is a bridge, there is a link between the two and that is the Centre. The Centre, in this case the London Buddhist Centre, is as it were the common ground, it is where these two worlds, these two societies meet, where they overlap, where they come together. So what happens" What happens" This is, in a way, the story of many of you its already happened. But let me describe what has already happened for the sake, for the benefit of those who have yet to make that transition, who have yet to pass from the old society to the new. What happens? Well what happens initially is that someone is dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction is very creative provided, of course that it is not just what we call disgruntlement, provided it is based on genuine disillusionment, if it is that, dissatisfaction is a very positive, a very creative and a very powerful thing. So someone is dissatisfied, that is the starting point, he is dissatisfied with his family, with his work, with his leisure activities and perhaps, more often than not, he is pretty fed up with himself as well, so he starts looking around, and he hears, perhaps, about Buddhism, he hears about the Centre, hears about meditation classes, he starts coming along to meditation classes, he starts attending lectures, possibly even going on retreat and as a result of all this, as a result of the meditation, as a result of listening to talks and so on he starts changing. And this, I can assure you, is something that I myself have seen happening in numberless instances, and many of you, especially those of you who are Order Members, will have seen it yourselves in the context of your own classes. One sees people actually changing and this, one might say, is the greatest miracle of all, that people change, not just change horizontally, but change vertically.

There is an incident in the life of the Buddha, where the Buddha himself spoke about this. You know the ancient Indians were very interested in supernormal powers, miraculous powers, the Buddha was often asked about these things, he was even asked to demonstrate, to display supernormal powers, miraculous powers, sometimes he did, perhaps when he was In a good mood. More often than not, he sternly refused but even now people like to hear about these things you see as soon as I start talking about supernormal powers, miraculous powers, people start perking up. I remember someone came to see me many years ago in Kalimpong, he'd come all the way from the West, he was a very intelligent man from Oxford University, he'd also been to Dublin University and he was a doctor, a medical man and he arrived one day at the Trivarna Vardana Vihara where I stayed in Kalimpong, within sight of the Himalayas, and he said "I have come to learn, I want you to ...

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