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The Individual and the World Today

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 140: The Individual and the World Today

Urgyen Sangharakshita Given in 1979 in Auckland, New Zealand ......... and Friends, Tonight, on this rather rainy Autumn night here in Auckland, and for the next two Wednesday nights, I*m going to be talking. And as you've just heard, I'm going to be talking about a new movement, or at least about a rather new movement. As you know we're all growing older all the time! I'm going to be talking about a new spiritual movement, in fact about a new Buddhist movement, that is to say a Buddhist movement affiliated to that great spiritual tradition which we know as Buddhism, but which calls itself in its own habitat simply the Dharma. In other words, I*m going to be talking about the FWBO. And in referring to the FWBO as a new spiritual movement, a new Buddhist movement, I*m using the term `movement' advisedly. I*m deliberately avoiding the term `organization', much less still `society' or `association', much less still the term `group'. And I*m avoiding such terms because I*m not talking about just another organization, I*m talking, or I shall be trying to talk, about something which I can only describe as a sort of current, as a sort of stream, of positive, emotional energy, a current or stream of what we may call - using a term that is often used and often abused - spiritual energy. And I like to use this word current, as well as the word stream, because current suggests, one might say, electricity - if you touch it, you get a shock; if you touch Buddhism, you also get a shock; if you touch the FWBO, you*ll certainly get a shock! So it*s a current, it*s a stream, of spiritual energy, and it*s a current or stream that moves from higher to ever higher levels of being and of consciousness. It*s a current or a stream which, with our co-operation, can take hold of us, can give us that shock, at least, and even, in the end, even eventually, transform, radically transform our lives, not only individually, but also, so to speak, collectively.

And this movement, this current, or this stream, is known as the FWBO, which stands for the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. And this FWBO is a new Buddhist movement, as I*ve already said, it*s new, first of all, in the sense of recent, or at least comparatively recent. It was founded only in 1967, which means that it*s now only twelve years old. It*s also new in the sense that it is different, different from existing Buddhist groups, especially Buddhist groups in the West, in Great Britain, USA, Germany, and so on. In what way it is different we may be able to see later on in these talks.

But the meaning, even one might say the inner meaning, of this new movement, the new spiritual movement, this new Buddhist movement, is revealed in its name: Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. So in my three talks here in Auckland, this autumn, I*m going to explore, I*m going to explain, the meaning of that name, both for the benefit for those who are hearing it for the first, or very nearly the first, time, and also for the benefit of those who*ve heard it many times but who might not yet have fully reald what these four words really stand for.

I*m going to try to explain in what sense the FWBO is a movement of Friends, I*m going to try to explain in what sense it is a Western movement, not an Eastern movement, and in what sense it is Buddhist, and also in what sense it is an Order, not an organization, not an association or a society, not a group, but an Order. I*m going to try to explain this too. But in trying to explain these four terms - Friends, Western, Buddhist, and Order, I*m not going to be dealing with them in that very order. For the sake of convenience I*m going to deal first of all with the meaning of Western. Then I*m going to deal with the meaning of Buddhist, and finally with the meaning of Friends and Order together. So I*m going to deal with the first of these, that is to say Western, tonight. With the second next week, and with the third and fourth the week after that. So tonight we explore, we examine, the meaning of Western. So in what sense is our new Buddhist movement Western? Well, I*ve said that the FWBO was founded in 1967, twelve years ago, and it was founded in the UK, it was founded in England, and it was founded in London. In fact it was founded in the very heart of London. I don*t know how many of you know London, perhaps quite a few of you do. But if you do it*ll mean something to you, I*m sure, if I tell you that the FWBO saw the light of day - so to speak - only a few hundred yards from Trafalgar Square. And that really is the heart of London. And the FWBO started Lecture 139: The Individual and the World Today: Page 1 in a tiny basement, not more than about I'd say twelve feet by fourteen, underneath a shop, in Monmouth Street, which is quite famous, some of you may know, in English literature. It crops up every now and then in 17th, 18th, and 19th century English literature as a place where they sold old clothes. Students of English literature here in Auckland may be interested to hear that. But anyway, in this basement, twelve feet by fourteen feet square, underneath this shop, in Monmouth Street, a few hundred yards from Trafalgar Square, with Nelson on his column, seven or eight of us used to meet just once a week, on a Thursday evening, for meditation. We used to meditate for an hour, together, and then we went home. Those of us who had a home of course - I didn*t, being a monk. And that was how the FWBO started, that was the little seed from which everything sprouted, everything sprang. I don*t know at the moment exactly how big we are but we have about twenty centres, about twenty communities, and about thirty supporting co-ops and business organizations, and we*ve spread to a number of countries. But that*s where we started, that*s where the little seed was planted. You might say we started almost like mushrooms, in this rather small dark cellar in Central London. But I mustn*t go on reminiscing in this fashion, otherwise I shall be unable to get on to the main topic, so I won*t go into all that tonight. That is another story, as they say.

Tonight I*m concerned just with the fact that the FWBO was started in the West, started, that is to say, in the midst of a particular kind of society, started, even, in the midst of a particular kind of civilization. Not the sort of civilization I*d been living in in India for twenty years. Something very different indeed. A civilization which differs from all previous civilizations in history, which differs from them in being, first of all, seculard, and secondly, industriald. And though this peculiar modern civilization, this Western civilization of ours was started in the West, it is certainly not confined to it, because in the course of the last hundred and fifty years or so it*s spread to most parts of the globe.

It*s even spread to some extent to India, as I saw in the course of the twenty years that I spent there.

The world of today is the Western world, or a Western world. It*s a world which is either Westernd, or in process of Westernization, that is to say secularization and industrialization, though there are signs that the process is being resisted, to some extent, sporadically, just here and there - for instance, quite recently in one or two of the Islamic states. So when we say that our new Buddhist movement, our FWBO, is Western, we don*t mean that it is just geographically located in the West, or that it was started, geographically speaking, in the West. We mean primarily, we mean basically, that it has arisen under the conditions of Western civilization, modern Western, that is to say seculard and industriald, civilization. Arisen under conditions which though they originated in the West, started in the West, are now virtually world-wide. And it*s with those conditions that the FWBO tries to cope.

It tries to make the Buddhist way of life, it tries to make the spiritual life - or even, we might say, dropping all such terminology - tries to make the truly human life - possible, under those conditions, under conditions of that sort. So the FWBO is Western in this sense. It*s Western in the sense that it is concerned with the world of today, not with the world of yesterday, however bright, however beautiful, that world in some respects may have been. It*s not concerned primarily with the world of traditional religious culture. The world of traditional religious culture is a very beautiful world - I saw something of it in India, saw something of it in Malaysia, amongst my Chinese Buddhist friends. But that world has gone, and, it seems, gone for ever.

So the FWBO does not look back, is not nostalgic, it doesn*t hark back to this beautiful, romantic, traditional, religious culture of the past. It looks forward. And in this sense also it*s new, in this sense - we might say, also - it*s young. The old usually look back to the past. As you get older - in fact this is a sign that you*re getting older, really older - the sign is that you start thinking more about the past than about the present, or even about the future. You start indulging in nostalgia. But the young look forward to the future.

Now the world today, which is the Western world, has certain special problems, problems that didn*t exist in the past quite in the way that they exist now. They*re not completely new problems, but they*re problems which happen to be more acute now, which face us, which confront us even, in a more urgent form. And the solution of which is therefore more urgent. Now all of you, I*m sure, can Lecture 139: The Individual and the World Today: Page 2 think of some such problem. Some will immediately think of economic problems, others will think of ecological problems, according to your particular interest. But what is the biggest of all these problems, ...

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