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Commitment and Spiritual Community

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by Sangharakshita

... an organisation. I'd already decided to remain in England because I saw that in England, in fact in the West generally, there was scope for a genuinely Buddhist movement. So I decided to start a new organisation, a new Buddhist movement, a new spiritual movement in England, and this of course was what was eventually started as the FWBO and WBO.

However, I mustn't go on ahead too quickly. It's not so easy to start up something new, not so easy to start up a new spiritual movement, a new Buddhist organisation, as one might think. In this connection I am reminded of a story about Voltaire, the great French writer and thinker. It's said that some time in the middle of the 18th century, a young clergyman came to see Voltaire, a clergyman whose faith in the Church, in Christianity, had evidently been crumbling, so he thought it would be a good idea to start a new religion. So Voltaire being the great sage of the times, this young clergyman went to Voltaire and he asked him `What should I do in order to start a new religion?' So Voltaire said `It's very easy, you just have to do two things'. He said `first of all you just get yourself crucified, and then you rise from the dead' [Laughter]. So it isn't so easy to start a new religion as one might think. It isn't very easy even to start a new spiritual movement, it isn't easy to start a new Buddhist organisation. It's not clear at first what has to be done, but - I think I can say this from my own experience - it's usually quite clear at first how things are not to be done, even though it's not so clear how they are, or they were to be done.

Lecture 141: Commitment and Spiritual Community Page 2 One thing that was clear to me was that Buddhist organisations could not be run by non-Buddhists. They couldn't be run simply by people who were good at running organisations, however good, however efficient they might be, and they couldn't certainly be run by people who were merely after power, or influence, or name and fame. A Buddhist organisation, it was clear, a Buddhist spiritual movement, could be run only by Buddhists, could be run only by real Buddhists, could be run only by those who were actually committed to Buddhism, committed to the Dharma, who actually practised the Buddha's teaching. Not by those who had merely an intellectual interest in it, and strange to say, at the time this did not seem to be generally realised. People seemed to think that a Buddhist organisation actually could be run by non-Buddhists, that a spiritual movement could be run by people who were not themselves spiritually motivated. However at that time it was clear to me that this was not so, that a spiritual movement could only be run by people who were spiritually motivated, that a Buddhist movement could be run only by Buddhists. But... But how could one know who was spiritually motivated? How could one know who was a Buddhist? What was a Buddhist in fact anyway? What was the criterion? Well, eventually the answer became clear, in fact in a way I had known it all along, but now I saw it in a new light. A Buddhist is one who Goes for Refuge, one who Goes for Refuge as we say to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, one who commits himself to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, commits himself to them with, as we say, body, speech and mind - in other words totally. And there are many examples of this sort of thing in the ancient Buddhist scriptures. When we read those scriptures, especially when we read the Pali scriptures, what do we find happening? Well, we encounter the Buddha, and the Buddha is wandering from place to place, begging his food as he goes, and in the course of his wanderings, in the course of his journeyings he meets somebody, under a tree, or in a village, and they get into conversation, they start talking. Maybe it's a Brahmin priest, maybe it's a farmer, maybe it's a well-to-do merchant, or a young `man-about-town', maybe it's a wandering ascetic, maybe it's a housewife, maybe it's a prince, but in one way or another they get into conversation, they get talking, and sooner or later, this particular person, the priest or the farmer, whoever it is, asks the Buddha a question.

Perhaps he's impressed by the Buddha's appearance, so noble, so lofty, so he asks a question. He questions the Buddha about perhaps the meaning of life, or about his teaching, or what happens after death, and then the Buddha replies. The Buddha might reply at considerable length, giving a sort of detailed discourse - after all in those days they had plenty of time for such things - or he might reply in just a few words. If he was very, very inspired he might even reply in verse, breathing out what is called an Udana, or he might occasionally reply even with complete silence. He might not say anything at all, but that would be a communication. By saying nothing he would say so much. There would be a wordless communication, and I'm sure many of you know it's from this wordless communication that the great Ch'an or Zen tradition originated. On the other hand, the Buddha might give one of his famous lion roars or sinhanadas as they are called, that is to say a full and frank, almost defiant declaration of his own great spiritual experience and the Path that he taught. But whatsoever the Buddha did, whatsoever the Buddha said or did not say in reply to the questioner's question, if that questioner, if that listener, was receptive the result was the same. He or she would feel deeply affected, deeply moved, deeply stirred, and sometimes there were external manifestations of this. Their hair might stand on end, they might even shed tears, or they might be seized by a violent fit of trembling, they were so stirred, so moved, so astonished, so thrilled. They would feel perhaps completely overwhelmed, and they'd have a tremendous experience, an experience of illumination. It would be just like seeing a great light, they'd have a tremendous sense of freedom, of emancipation, they'd feel as though a great burden had been lifted from their back, or as though they'd been just suddenly let out of prison or as though they could at last see their way. The questioner, the listener, would feel spiritually reborn, would feel like a new man. So at that moment, that great moment, that turning point in his life what would that person say? What would be his response to the Buddha and his Dharma? What would be the cry that broke from his lips? Well, according to those ancient Pali texts, he'd say `Buddham saranam gacchami, Dhammam saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami' which means `To the Buddha for refuge I go, to the Dharma for refuge I go, to the Sangha for refuge I go', and this would be his response, this is what he would say, he would Go for Refuge, he would commit himself, because the vision that the Buddha had shown him, the vision of truth, the vision of existence, the vision of human life itself, in all its depth and complexity, was so great that all he could do was give himself to that vision, completely. He would want to live for that vision, he'd want, if necessary, to die for it. And this is how one could know who was a Buddhist, this was the criterion: a Buddhist is one who Goes for Refuge in that sort of way as his response to the Buddha and his teaching. A Buddhist is one who commits himself, gives himself, if you like, to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. So this was the criterion in the Buddha's day two thousand five hundred years ago and it remains the criterion today.

Now I had seen that Buddhist organisations could be run only by Buddhists; it was clear to me therefore that Buddhist organisations could be run only by those who had Gone for Refuge, only by those who had committed themselves wholeheartedly, to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. And there was another thing that was clear to me, which was that a Buddhist organisation that was run by Buddhists, that is to say committed Buddhists, would no longer be an organisation. Not an organisation in the ordinary sense of the term. It would be a spiritual movement, in fact it would be what we call a spiritual community, that is to say, an association of committed individuals, freely working together for a common spiritual end. Thus we would no longer have spiritually uncommitted people running a so-called Buddhist organisation, instead we'd have spiritually committed people running a spiritual movement, running a spiritual community. In this way commitment would give birth to spiritual community, and hence the title of tonight's talk, which is, `Commitment and Spiritual Community'. So we can begin to see in what sense the FWBO is an Order, can begin to see, perhaps, what led me to start an Order rather than yet another Buddhist organisation of the usual type. In what sense the FWBO is also a movement of friends, we shall see a little later on. An Order consists of those who have been ordained, who are ordained. In Buddhist terms ordination means giving full formal expression, that is to say expression in concrete form, to one's commitment to the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, and having that commitment recognised by others already committed. One can join an organisation by paying the required subscription, but one can be received into an Order only by way of ordination, that is to say only by committing oneself.

So this was the basis on which our new Buddhist movement was founded. The basis of commitment and spiritual community, or, in more traditional Buddhist language, Going for Refuge and Sangha. This was in fact the only basis on which it could be founded and one might therefore wonder why it had taken me, personally, such a long time, apparently, to see this. You might wonder, in fact, why nobody else had seen it, why nobody else had thought in terms of commitment and spiritual community, why nobody else, in recent times at least, ...

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