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Authority and the Individual in the New Society

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by Sangharakshita

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... also are not functioning as an individual. From this follows another conclusion, a conclusion even more important than the first one. We have seen that the spiritual community consists of individuals, that is to say, of true individuals and this means that within the spiritual community we can only deal with others only as individuals, If we deal with them in any other way, it ceases to be a spiritual community and our relationship with them in the spiritual community ceases to be a spiritual relationship, therefore, with the context of the spiritual community, we cannot deal with others as representing, we cannot deal with them as occupying offices or positions and therefore, within the spiritual community as such there can be no offices and no positions.

If we deal with others in this sort of way, we are not dealing with them as individuals and therefore, ipso facto, we are not functioning within them spiritual community, we are functioning within the group. In other words, within the spiritual community there is no representing, within the spiritual community there is no authority within the sense in which I have defined the term. Therefore, within the new society there is no authority, within Sukhavati there is no authority, within the resident spiritual community, no authority, with the Co-operative, no authority, within the Co-operative, after all who employs whom? Within the Centre, no authority, except to the extent that one may have to deal with people who are not yet true individuals, because as I have said earlier, the Centre is the bridge, the Centre is the common ground, that is to say common ground for individuals and group members. That is to say, group members who want to become true individuals.

Now, the idea that when we deal with others as representing, etc, we are not dealing with them as individuals, may not be very familiar. It may take a little getting used to so let me give one or two examples of the kind of thing I mean, the sort of thing I am trying to get at or to make clear, examples from my own experience. As you know I spent some years in India, I spent altogether, nearly twenty years there and while I was in India I immersed myself completely in Buddhism, I had no other interests and I adopted, in order to further my immersion in Buddhism, I adopted the Indian way of life completely, sometimes I was mistaken for an Indian, sometimes but not always as we shall see in a minute, I cut off all contact with the European community, sometimes for years on end I never saw, I never spoke to any member of the European community. Nevertheless, some of my Indian friends, or at least some of the Indians with whom I came into contact persisted, notwithstanding my Buddhism, notwithstanding my Indian-ness, persisted in regarding me as British, in fact some of them insisted in regarding me as representing Britain.

I remember in particular, the sort of thing that used to happen in 1956. In 1956 Indians who happened to meet me, whether on the train or at some meeting or coming to see me Indians would ask me "Have you invaded Suez?" It wasn't even "Why has your country invaded Suez?", no "Why have you invaded Suez?".

There was I in India all the time, immersed in Buddhism. So what does this mean? It means that they did not see me. That they did not see me, the individual, Sangharakshita, they only saw a representative of Britain and they treated me as such, The same sort of thing happened when I returned to England, initially for the first time in 1964. When I initially returned I was regarded as representing Buddhism, Newspaper reporters used to come and see me, usually nice young ladies with their notebooks and pencils and they would come with all sorts of weird ideas about Buddhism and they would ask me in the nicest possible way "Why do you believe in self torture?" Once again, they didn't see me, there was no attempt to find out what I actually did believe. They saw me as the representative of Buddhism, that is to say, of Buddhism as they understood it, there was no awareness of me as an individual at all.

So when we regard someone as a representative, as representing something or other, we do not see them as an individual and our relationship with them, to that extent, cannot possibly be a spiritual relationship and it therefore has no place within the spiritual community, it has no place within the new society. Now, I have spoken of the representative as being entrusted with the power of the group to which he belongs.

I have spoken of authority as the power one exercises by virtue of one's office or position. So the question of power comes in, What do we mean by power? Once again there is an ambiguity. First of all in the broadest sense power means ability, physical, mental or moral, to act. Secondly it means the possession of sway, or controlling influence over others and thirdly it means force or energy applied or applicable to work and in the present context, the context of this lecture, this consideration of the individual and the new society we are concerned with the second of these meanings. In the present context power means the capacity to exert force, capacity to coerce, whether directly or indirectly, whether physically or psychologically. Spiritual coercion, of course, being a contradiction in terms.

Therefore we see that there are these three things that hang together, that is to say, representing authority and power, they hang together. In fact we can say that power is the factor which the other two, that is to say representing and authority have in common. It is power that makes them what they are, that enables them to be what they are. Therefore, since representing and authority have no place in the spiritual community, power has no place in the spiritual community either, That is to say power in the sense of capacity to coerce. No place in the spiritual community. I am not saying, please don't jump to this conclusion, I am not saying that power is a bad thing, it has it's place, but its place Is in the group, not in the spiritual community. Power is in fact necessary to the group, the group as such is based on power, cannot exist without power, hence the saying 'politics is about power', in other words it Is about who possesses the power to coerce, or who coerces whom.

The spiritual community, on the other hand, cannot exist with power. As soon as one exercises power, that is to say as soon as one coerces, one ceases to treat others as individuals, that 'is to say, true individuals and as soon as one ceases to treat others as individuals, as true individuals the spiritual community ceases to exist. The group consists of group members, they relate to one another in terms of power, power is the principle that governs their relationships but the spiritual community consists of individuals. What therefore do they relate to one another in terms of? What is the principle that governs their relationships? What is the principle that governs the spiritual community? The principle of which, in a way, the spiritual community is an embodiment, Well, we will return to that question shortly, So far I have not mentioned, I have not introduced the term 'Religion' and perhaps it is about time I did so, perhaps a little unwillingly because I don't really like this term. Ideally a religion is a spiritual community. That is to say a community of people sharing common spiritual ideals, that is to say, of course, a universal religion is a Spiritual community, that does not apply to the ethnic religion, ethnic religion, by very definition is a group religion, So since ideally, a religion is a spiritual community there is no place in it, no place in religion, no place 'in universal religion, for authority and therefore, no place in it for power, But unfortunately, this is not always the case with religions as historical phenomena. We do find, if we look at the history of religions, that power does creep in. To the extent this happens, the religion ceases to be a religion at all, ceases to be, that is to say, a spiritual community which a religion, a higher religion, a universal religion essentially is, it becomes instead, a group, becomes based on power. And this has happened, we might say, more with some religion that with others. How is this? Universal religions are of two kinds, theistic and non-theistic.

Theistic means believing in a personal God, that is to say a Supreme Being, the Creator and Governor of the universe. The non-theistic religions do not believe in any such God. Non-theistic means not believing in any such God. Now we find, if we look carefully, if we look closely at the history of religions, we find that it is the theistic religions that tend to be corrupted by authority and power, which tends to change from spiritual communities into groups, I don't say it doesn't happen at all in the case of the non-theistic religions but in a much more marked manner, a much more definite manner in the case of the theistic religions.

So how is this, how is this? Well in the theistic religions there is God but no-one sees God, no-one hears God. That is to say ordinary people do not so, in the theistic religions, in addition to God there is God's representative. The representative tells us in one way or another what it is that God thinks, what is that God wants us to do and representatives in this sense are of several different kinds, there is the prophet, or messenger of God. Someone who God has called and sent, sent to tell people what to do and of course there is the incarnate Son of God, the man who is believed to be God's own Son, in a sense God's own self, appearing in human form to tell people what to do, how to live and so on.

Now the representative not only tells us what God wants us to do the representative has also been entrusted with God's power. The ...

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