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Buddhist Dawn in the West

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by Sangharakshita

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... In this connection we derive inspiration from a work by Geshe Wangyal called would help, oh yes, I think that won*t help." You have to actually start living the spiritual life, trying to develop, trying to reach enlightenment, trying at least to become a stream entrant, and only then will you be able to tell what really helps and what doesn*t help. Tell maybe not just by yourself but in consultation with your spiritual friends. So you can*t really apply this criterion unless you try to practise the Buddha*s teaching, unless you commit yourself to the three jewels. So we therefore find that the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order is not just Buddhist, it*s also an order, It*s a spiritual community if people committed to trying to become as the Buddha was, trying to gain enlightenment, trying, as I said, at least to obtain stream entry in this life. So we have not just the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, we have the Western Buddhist order itself, this nucleus, as it were, now nearly 300 of them, people committed to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, who go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who are making an effort to develop, and effort to grow, an effort to reach enlightenment. And since they are making that effort, since they*re trying to grow, they will know what it is helps them in that process, they will know what doesn*t help them. So we have the Order, the Western Buddhist Order, known in India as the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha, the sangha, the Buddhist sangha of the three worlds. Trailokya, by the way, is not actually a Pali word, it*s a Sanskrit word. The Pali equivalent would be Tiloka, and in case those who heard the talks that made up the symposium early on were a bit puzzled by this three world business, let me just offer a few words of explanation. What are these three worlds? Well, one can look at it in two ways. This is how I explained it originally in India when we formulated this term because clearly we couldn*t have just a Western Buddhist Order there. Tiloka means the three worlds -- so what are these three worlds? There*s the kamaloka, the world of sensuous experience, there*s the rupaloka, the world of higher. As it were, archetypal experience, with which we come into contact through our meditation and through our experience to some extent of the fine arts, and then beyond that the arupaloka, so-called formless world of higher, infinitely more refined, spiritual experience, beyond which is Nirvana, or enlightenment. So the Trailokya Buddha mahasangha is the sangha, the spiritual community of those people who have committed themselves to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, with a view to transcending the kamaloka, transcending the rupaloka, transcending even the arupaloka and gaining enlightenment. They become Trailokya vijayin, that is to say conquerors of the three worlds. This is why the Buddha is called Jina, or conqueror. He conquered the three worlds, he*s transcended the mundane, he even in its most refined manifestations he has achieved enlightenment, or buddhahood. So this is the first meaning of tiloka, or Trailokya. The other is more modern you may say, or more up to date, because we*ve got in modem parlance the three worlds, we*ve got the developed world, we*ve got the undeveloped world, and in between you*ve got the developing world. Though we are functioning, or we hope to function, in all those worlds - in that world or those countries which are developed, which are not developed and which are developing. So we are a trailokya - or the Movement in India, the sangha in India - is trailokya in this sense too. So you might even say that we are trailokya in this sense too.

So you might even say that we are [not only] trailokya in traditional spiritual terms ordinations but also in modern secular terms too. Incidentally, some of us have been thinking that even in the west this term `Western' may not be altogether appropriate, so we may be giving consideration to changing it in the future, but that's another story. I'm not going into it now.

Now, I mentioned a few minutes ago those first ordinations, and on the day on which the public ordinations were given, 18 years ago, I gave; I was going to say remember but to tell the truth I don*t remember: I had to consult my notes, but I gave two talks and the first of these talks was on the upasaka ordination in the Western Buddhist Order. The other was on the bodhisattva vow, interestingly enough. But in the first of these talks I referred to the four grades of ordination. Because this was the way in which we were thinking those days, so perhaps it may be of interest to some of you to hear about this, in the course of this talk (lecture) I spoke first of all of the upasika and upasaka being the feminine gender of ordination, and then I spoke about the maha upasika or maha upasaka ordinations, about the bodhisattva ordination and the bhikkhu ordination, these being the traditional ordinations you might say, and at that time we thought in terms of having an order having a sangha In which you as it were moved up through these grades. But I thought like that only for a while. Later on we changed that, in fact we changed that quite soon as a result of our own growing and deepening experience of the real meaning of spiritual community, the real meaning of going for refuge; the real meaning of having a sangha, what we felt and what I especially felt was that the central thing, the main thing in Buddhism was going for refuge, going for refuge to the Buddha, going for refuge to the Dharma, going for refuge to the sangha, it was the absolutely central act that made one a Buddhist, everything else was secondary, whether you were a monk or a layman, a nun or a laywoman, whether you were living in the forest alone or whether you were living at home with your wife and your family that was all secondary; the main thing was that you went for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. So the spiritual community consisted of all those who went for refuge in this way, to the Buddha, the Dharma as the sangha. That was the most important thing anybody could do in the course of his or her own life. So as the months and the years went by the going for refuge seemed to us of such overwhelming significance that one could only really speak in terms of one ordination, that one occasion on which you committed yourself to the Buddha as the ultimate spiritual teacher, to the Dharma as his teaching of the path to enlightenment, and the sangha the spiritual community of his followers, those who were treading that path. That seemed to be the main thing that seemed to be what Buddhism was all about. So there was no question of grades of ordination, there was no question of a lower ordination, or a higher ordination; there was just ordination, there was just going for refuge to the Buddha the Dharma and the Sangha. But though there may not have been different grades, there were different levels, and this was also something that we discovered quite soon because you can go for refuge with more or less energy, more or less force, more or less conviction. More or less experience both mundane and spiritual, so we came to distinguish in the one going for refuge different levels and in particular we came to distinguish between what I*ve called effective going for refuge and real going for refuge. So what does one mean by effective going for refuge? Effective going for refuge means when you not being enlightened but wishing to become enlightened, wishing to follow the path of the Buddha with total sincerity, dedicate yourself, commit yourself to the Buddha the Dharma and the Sangha. As fully as you possibly can. Wishing to make the Buddha, the Dharma and Sangha absolutely central in your life.

Wishing to place them as we often say, in the very centre of your mandala: this is effective going for refuge. But inasmuch as your not enlightened, not really in a sense on the path to enlightenment, not the higher path you can slip back if you*re not careful you can withdraw. And in the very early days of the FWBO, in the very early days of the Western Buddhist Order some people did withdraw, many people did withdraw, they found It rather too much, they found that they*d bitten off rather more than they could chew.

I*ve mentioned that on the occasion of that first public ordination ceremony twelve people were ordained; well most of them didn*t last for more than a couple of years, and there is in fact only one who Is still effectively with us, and that Is Ananda. Who is the only person who can share with me therefore nineteen year memories of the FWBO and the WBO. Another who stayed with us in a sense all the course because he stayed right up until the time of his death just three or four years ago was Vangisa. And it was really a great blow to the whole movement and especially to the Order when we lost Vangisa; I was in Crete at the time and I received the news quite late about a week after he actually died. I can remember receiving the news, and I can remember how I felt thinking of Vangisa. Because Vangisa was one of those who was coming along to my lectures at the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara, he was a member of the Sangha Association and when the Sangha Trust decided they didn*t want me back well he was one of those who followed me into the FWBO, in fact even helped to set up the FWBO, and he was with us and very much with us through all sorts of personal difficulties and illness and so on right up until almost the hour of his death, in fact I think he took his last class, his last meditation class just a few hours before he died. So many were not able to maintain that original commitment. Yes, of that original one dozen only Ananda is still effectively with us. But of course as the years went by that sort of thing became less and less likely because the movement as a whole, the order as a whole became stronger and stronger and ...

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