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Twenty Years on the Middle Way

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by Sangharakshita

TAPE 168: Twenty Years on the Middle Way

Sangharakshita Note: K = Kalimpong (SIDE 1) Dhammarati and friends. While thanking Dhammarati for that introduction, I have to introduce just one little correction which was, or which is, that I founded the Triyana Vardana Vihara seven years after my arrival in K, and the year following my arrival in K I established the Young Men's Buddhist Association of K. It's nice to get the little biographical facts exactly right, because I sometimes find it necessary to check the growth of what might be called the Sangharakshita Legend. Because I have heard it, and even seen it in print, that during the war I was in the RAF, and that I was a fighter pilot. I can assure you that I have no such pretensions, my style of pilotry is of quite another nature. So facts are facts, and legends are legends.

Well, whether it may be considered as a fact, or whether it may be considered as a legend, or whether it may be considered even as the mixture of the two, this evening we're celebrating the 20th anniversary of that legendary body, the FWBO. That is to say the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. Yes, the FWBO has been in existence for exactly 20 years, and sometimes I must admit it doesn't seem like that at all. But, as I think it's already been mentioned, it's actual date of establishment was the 6th of April 1967, a day - or rather an evening - which I remember very well indeed. In terms of our average human lifespan, 20 years is not really a very long time at all, but nonetheless in the course of 20 years quite a lot can happen. And indeed in the case of the FWBO, quite a lot has happened in the course of these last 20 years. In the course of these last 20 years FWBO centres have sprung up in many different parts of the world. As have spiritual communities, and team-based right livelihood projects or businesses. And in this way through, or by means of, these centres, these communities, and these right livelihood projects or businesses, there has come into existence over the years, the nucleus of what we call, borrowing the current expression, the New Society. Or at the very least the nucleus of that nucleus.

Now compared with some of the newer religious movements, the FWBO is not very big, but certainly the FWBO has grown more quickly than at least some of us expected, especially when we consider the nature of our ideals and when we consider how difficult those ideals are to implement, as most of us I expect find almost every day.

So as we look back over the last 20 years, we experience quite a variety of emotions, perhaps we experience quite strong, quite powerful emotions. We experience for example emotions of thankfulness that a spiritual and cultural movement like the FWBO actually exists. We experience thankfulness that there is a situation in which we can develop as human beings, in which we can become true individuals. We experience thankfulness that we can form, that we can develop, spiritual friendships.

And thankfulness that we can deepen our spiritual experience. Thankfulness even that we can put all our old problems well and truly behind us.

We may also experience a certain amount of pride, pride that is in the positive sense.

Pride that we could help build up something like the FWBO, pride that we could be the means of bringing the Dharma, bringing the teaching of the Buddha, bringing the possibility of personal development, with other people with whom we come into contact. But at the same time that pride may be mingled with disappointment, disappointment that we have not been able to do more, disappointment that the FWBO is not bigger and better than it actually is, disappointment that it has not been able - that the FWBO has not been able - to exercise a deeper and a more extensive influence than it does, especially when one considers how badly the world needs the kind of influence which the FWBO represents.

Speaking personally, and perhaps on an occasion like this I should speak personally, speaking personally as I look back over the last 20 years, the last 2 decades, my own feeling, my own emotion, is more one of wonder than anything else. Wonder that is to say that the FWBO should have come into existence at all because perhaps only I know how very nearly it didn't come into existence. And wonder also that having come into existence, it has survived and grown. After all it was a very small child you may say, it was a very weak little shoot. Someone referred to it in the course of the afternoon as a sapling, well it certainly wasn't a sapling to begin with, it was a tiny little shoot with all sorts of cold and discouraging blasts blowing upon it. Or it was like a little flame, one might say, which I was trying to shelter between my two hands, and again there were all sorts of cold and discouraging blasts coming upon it, and trying to blow the poor little flame out. But of course they didn't succeed in blowing that little flame out, and the little flame is now a moderately big flame.

In other words not to speak so metaphorically, as many of you know, the FWBO started in really a very small and very insignificant way. It started, and I'm not going to start reminiscing - not really - in a tiny basement room in Monmouth Street in central London which noone I'm sure is in any danger of forgetting. I believe we've even got a photograph, or even 2 photographs, of it in this hall this evening just to remind us, just to make sure that we won't forget. I'm not actually going to start reminiscing about the old days, the good old days as some of our friends call it. The good old days, that is to say, when Bhante had to do everything himself, and nobody else did anything - well, hardly anybody else did anything. And I certainly don't look back on that aspect of our early days, as good old days - I'm quite happy to live in the bad old days, or the bad new days one may say, when lots of other people are doing things that I used to do and I can sit back relatively speaking. So I'm not going to yield to the temptation of reminiscing about these days, good, bad or indifferent - probably I've yielded to that temptation quite enough already.

Instead of reminiscing, I'm going to consider what the FWBO has been actually doing these last 20 years, that is to say what we have been doing these last 20 years. What we have been doing that is to say in principle. I'm not going to give you details of centres and activities and things like that, but what the FWBO, what we have been doing in the course of the last 20 years in principle. Now as most of you know the initials FWBO stand for Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. So here, as the grammarians present will tell you, we have two nouns and two adjectives, and the two nouns and the two adjectives are probably of equal importance. So far as this evening's talk is concerned, the emphasis falls on one of the adjectives, the emphasis falls on Buddhist. The FWBO is a Buddhist movement, or if you like a Buddhist organization. It belongs to, and is part of - an integral part of - the great spiritual tradition, which in the West we call Buddhism, but in the East it's simply called the Dharma, or just Dharma, or Dhamma, or chon in Tibetan. And that great spiritual tradition which we call Buddhism looks for it's ultimate inspiration, and of course the FWBO looks to it's ultimate inspiration, to Gautama the Buddha, the founder as we call it, the founder in single-inverted commas of Buddhism, the Discoverer, the Re- discoverer, of those spiritual truths which we call the Dharma. Now it's at this point there naturally arises, there inevitably arises, the question: what is Buddhism? Quite a number of answers could be given to this question and I'm sure you've heard quite a number of these answers on various occasions already, perhaps in the course of lectures at the LBC and elsewhere, perhaps in the course of Mitra study groups, or retreats, and so on. And in the course of the last 20 years, well in fact in the course of the last 40 years, I myself have given quite a number of answers to this question of 'what is Buddhism?'. The answer that I'm going to give this evening to the question 'what is Buddhism?' is quite a short and simple one. I'm going to say simply that Buddhism is the teaching of the Middle Way. The Buddha, Gautama the Buddha, Siddhartha, Sakyamuni, followed this middle way himself, he exemplified it, we might say he embodied it. And he also taught others to follow this middle way as he calls it, the madhimapatipana ?. And since the FWBO, since the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, is a Buddhist movement, it therefore follows that the FWBO is a movement of the middle way, it follows that the FWBO is on the middle way, and since the FWBO has been in existence for 20 years the FWBO has been 20 years on the middle way. We have been 20 years on the middle way, because the FWBO doesn't exist apart from it's members.

So what is the middle way? This is the further question that arises. And I remember that in the course of my 20 years in India, I gave quite a number of lectures on this particular topic, usually I spoke of the principle of the middle way as having three aspects, or three levels of application. There was what I called the middle way in ethics, the middle way in psychology, and the middle way in metaphysics. The middle way in ethics is of course - well no - it consists of the fact that one should avoid the extreme of self-mortification on the one hand and self-indulgence on the other. Or if you like the extremes of asceticism and hedonism.

The middle way in psychology is not quite so well-known. Here also there are two extreme views. According to one of these extreme views, Man has, Man possesses, an unchanging soul and that this soul unchanged survives bodily death. That is one of the extreme views in psychology. According ...

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