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Buddhist Dawn in the West

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by Sangharakshita

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... curtain could be heard all over the basement. Anyway technically they were private you know interviews, and people meeting me, coming to see me before the class started, or after the class had finished, used to, you know, pour off all their troubles; in those days people seemed to have lots of troubles, they don*t seem to have so many these days, and technically nobody else could hear -- people pretended they couldn*t hear, while people pouring out their souls to me behind the curtain. I remember this very well and this was how we started, we had the dedication ceremony. I recited the dedication ceremony, you know, others recited after me. This is by the way the same dedication ceremony that appears in our puja book and which we use on occasions still, and in this way our tri ratna meditation centre and shrine, as we grandly called it, you know, was established. So I started a couple of weekly meditation classes, one for the people who*d been meditating with me at the Hampstead Buddhist vihara and one for completely new people, and these went on, you know, week after week, quite steadily and quite a lot of people passed through, and then of course, after a few weeks, or perhaps a few months, I started giving lectures, I started giving courses of lectures and I remember very well that the very first course of lectures I gave under the auspices of the FWBO was held at the Kingsway Hall in Holborn, and was on the subject of aspects of Buddhist psychology. You notice the psychology, because psychology was very popular in those days. Buddhists, those who thought of themselves as Buddhists, used to read mainly psychological literature, you know, Freud, Jung, Steckel [sic: the speaker may be referring to Stengel], Sullivan -- who was the other one who was very popular? -- on, Erich Fromm, he was very popular. Did I mention Jung? Yes. I mean, people used to read almost anything except the Buddhist scriptures in those days, they certainly read all these you know writers on different aspects of psychology .... unclear...] attract people, lure people with the magic word psychology, that would really draw them, so we had "Aspects of Buddhist Psychology". But of course under this they had the analytical psychology of the abidharma, you know, good tough material to begin with; they had I believe the depth psychology of the Yogacara, which brought in lots of Buddhist metaphysics and we even had, you know, the, what is it, archetypal symbolism of the life of the Buddha, because archetypal was another word that really drew them and we had something about the Tibetan Book of the Dead, something about death, and that rather to my surprise really drew them, they really came flocking to that lecture -- that was the most successful lecture we had in the whole series, so, you know, under this this this [sic] banner of psychology, well one was able to put across really so much of Buddhism -- people didn*t seem to notice, and then there was the second series of lectures I gave.

This series was at Centre House, was on the Buddhist noble eight-fold path. Here we came to really basic Buddhist material and of course the transcripts, the edited transcripts of those tape-recorded talks are still very much in circulation in the EWBO, were recently printed in our Mitrata series with all sorts of comments and explanations taken from seminars. So I rather like to think, I*m happy to think that, you know, in those early lectures given nineteen, eighteen years ago, are still in circulation in the FWBO and still so useful. Incidentally, they are being published almost at this very moment by Buddhist friends of ours in Malaysia -- Buddhists of Chinese origin and Chinese descent were so taken by these lectures when they encountered them on tape they wanted to publish them themselves, for us, and give us several thousand copies, so this is what is happening now. They*re going to give us four thousand copies for free distribution, mainly in India, because that*s where I think they*ll do the greatest amount of good. So it*s really interesting to think that lectures I gave in London, lectures I gave in Centre House in Kensington, you know, nearly nineteen years ago, are proving useful in this very year to Buddhists of Chinese origin in faraway Malaysia, and that they are reprinting these lectures in that way. And it was in addition to lectures we started having retreats; we went away into the country -- we went to some retreat centres belonging to the Ockenden venture on the outskirts of Haslemere. The first of the places we used was Quartermaine, and again this brings back all sorts of memories to me nineteen years ago, eighteen years ago, seventeen years ago, we were having the first of our retreats, which were very experimental indeed at Quartermaine, just perhaps a couple of dozen people with a rather loosely organised programme -- some meditation, I think a couple of talks by me, sometimes two a day, and communication exercises. We speedily found these very useful in removing people*s inhibitions and blockages and so on, but I remember these early retreats mainly because I had to do and to take everything myself, including the communication exercises, including even the concluding puja and our evening meditation classes were still going on at Sakura, so what I used to do is immediately after taking the afternoon meditation I*d catch the train up to waterloo, then I*d go up to Monmouth Street, I*d take the meditation class, someone would rush me by car to Waterloo Station, I*d catch the train and I*d get back, you know, to Quartermaine in time to take the concluding meditation, and I remember that on one occasion -- I think we must have been going on for a year and a half or so -- I entrusted the leading of the evening puja to Ananda considered appropriate, you know, for ordination, to wear a dark suit or a dark dress, but obviously, you know, not now. So with these ordinations things really begun [sic] to get under way. We had not only the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, we had the Western Buddhist Order itself, and that was the Buddhist dawn in the West, when we had not only the FWBO but the WBO, the Western Buddhist Order, that was the birth, you may say, if what I told you about Calcutta was the conception, this was the birth. You might say that that one-year period, the sort of period of the gestation, one might say, and the movement was fully born just eighteen years ago with the founding of the order, and that was the Buddhist dawn in the Wes Now some of you might be surprised to hear me say that that was the Buddhist dawn in the West, but that is literally the truth. You might be thinking, well wasn*t there Buddhism before that? Wasn*t there Buddhism before the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, before the Western Buddhist Order, in the West? Well in a sense there was.

But again in a sense there wasn*t. There hadn*t really been a Buddhist dawn in the West, there*d been perhaps a Theravada dawn in the West, there*d been perhaps a Zen dawn in the West, but there hadn*t really been, we may say, a Buddhist dawn in the West, because whatever of Buddhism was propagated, taught, was Buddhism according to the teachings of one particular school, one particular tradition. Buddhism as such, the Dharma as such, was not really taught, not really transmitted at all -- and this is why we call ourselves, why we emphasize the fact that we call ourselves, the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. We*re just a Buddhist order -- we*re not a Theravada order, we*re not a Zen order, we*re not a Vajrayana order, we*re not a Tantric order, we*re just a Buddhist order, plain and simple, and we*re a Buddhist order, a Buddhist movement in the sense that we take, we accept, we have recourse to, we derive inspiration from, the whole of the Buddhist tradition, the whole of the eastern Buddhist tradition, and this is very much the case in the movement, when it comes to reading, when it comes to study, study of scriptures. Sometimes, as many of you know, you*ll find us pouring over Pali Buddhist texts of the Theravada tradition, you*ll find us going through them word by word, and sometimes referring to the original Pali text. I*m glad to say that quite a few order members and mitras have learned to consult their Pali-English dictionary in the course of their studies. This is giving a certain amount of backbone to the study. So, yes, we study texts like the Udana, like the Dhammapada, the Sutta Nipata, the Majjhima Nikaya, which are all from the Pali canon. We derive strength and inspiration from those. Again, we study some of the great sutras of the Mahayana tradition -- we study the Sutra of Golden Light, we study the Diamond Sutra, we study the Heart Sutra, we study the Perfection of Wisdom sutras in general, we study the Vimalakirti Nirdesa, we study the White Lotus Sutra, we study especially the beautiful parables and myths of the White Lotus Sutra, and these Mahayana sutras, belonging to the Mahayana tradition, we derive strength, we derive inspiration, from them. And then again, perhaps, turning to the Zen tradition, a text which influenced me personally very much in my early days is one of the most important of Zen, or rather Chang texts, the so-called Sutra of Wei Lang or Hui Neng.

This was one of the two texts - the other being the Diamond Sutra -- the reading of which made me realize I was a Buddhist. These two we study, these two we derive inspiration from -- this great Zen, or Chang, text. For instance, just to give you another example, there*s Hakuin*s Song of Enlightenment, Hakuin being a great winjai, Japanese Zen master. I think nearly every person involved with the FWBO at some time or other, has heard this great Song of Enlightenment, recited, or read, in the context of a puja. So we derive great inspiration from that, and then, turning to Tibetan Buddhism, well, it*s difficult to know what not to mention. ...

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