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The Next Twenty Years

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by Sangharakshita

170: The Next 20 Years

Dharmacaris and Dharmacarinis, I was a little surprised, I must confess, that Ananda only started with the solar system. I thought he had more imagination than that! I must also say that I can't really share his pessimism about those unpublished novels - I'm sure we'll all in the course of the next twenty years give Ananda a helping hand in getting them published! He's only got to go on writing them! But that is, as it were, by the way.

Let's come down even from the solar system into the present, or rather to begin with, to begin with simply the last twenty years. We've completed twenty years. The Western Buddhist Order has been in existence twenty years. Ananda's told us how many sunrises, he didn't mention anything about sunsets, how many moons, I think he might even have mentioned how many days, but anyway twenty years.

So twenty years of what? Twenty years of meditation, and of meditation classes, twenty years of lectures, twenty years of studying the Dharma, twenty years of retreats, twenty years of right livelihood, team-based right livelihood, twenty years of work, twenty years of play, twenty years of triumphs, twenty years of disappointments, twenty years sometimes of heartache, even disillusionment, twenty years of all sorts of things, and through them all the Order and the Movement steadily growing.

Twenty years of all sorts of other things too. Ananda reminisced a bit, I can't help reminiscing a little bit also. I can remember, not twenty years, but one, or two, or three years of meditation classes at our old (Sakura?) basement followed by walks with Ananda along the Victoria Embankment, sometimes in the late spring sunshine, sometimes, I believe if my memory doesn't fail me - it's beginning to fail me - when it was snowing talking about poetry, Buddhism , the arts, the novel on which Ananda was then working, and so on. So twenty years also of that sort of spiritual fellowship, friendship, twenty years of commitment, spiritual commitment, twenty years of commitment to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

So much then for the last twenty years, but what about the next twenty years? What do the next twenty years hold for us both individually and collectively? As an Order? As a Movement? Now I must admit, I must confess straight away that I'm quite unable to see into the future. I'm quite unable to give you really any clue even as to what is going to happen in the course of the next twenty years. I simply don't know. I don't know any more than you do.

But perhaps there is just one thing I can be sure of, there is just one thing that I know is going to happen. Well I'm almost sure it's going to happen in the course of the next twenty years, and certainly the next thirty or forty years, and that is that some of us are not going to be here. Some of us in short are going to die, probably in the course of the next twenty years - if not in the course of the next twenty years, certainly quite soon after that. That's really the only thing that we can be sure of. The only thing that we can be sure of in this life is death. It's the one thing that we can be sure of. Ananda spoke about the mystery, the paradox of time and eternity, but there's also the mystery, also the paradox, of life and death. There is the paradox that the only thing that we can really be utterly certain about with regard to life is that life will end. The only certain thing about life is the fact of death.

So in the course of this talk I'm not going to make any predictions. I'm not going to be able to tell you what's going to happen, or even what I think is going to happen, because there are so many unknown, uncertain factors, so many imponderables. So what I'm going to do is simply to share with you with regard to the next twenty years some of my personal reflections, some of my hopes, some of my fears. I'm not going to be able to do, I'm not going to try to do anything more than that. In doing that I shall not so to speak be following a middle way. I think last year I gave a talk on twenty years on the Middle Way, but I'm not going to be myself on The Middle Way this evening. I'm going in a way to adopt at least formally a slightly one-sided position. So what do I mean by that? The day after tomorrow I shall be reading a paper, a paper on The History of My Going For Refuge. So that will be something which I've prepared, something to which I've given a great deal of thought, something which I've written out, even composed, very carefully. So you could say that's one extreme, as it were, so this evening I'm going to follow the other extreme. I haven't really prepared a proper lecture. It's going to be more of the nature of an impromptu, or semi-impromptu talk, on the basis of some very rough notes just quickly put together. Because I know some people do prefer this type of address. They do prefer that sometimes they have this as it were less formal or less prepared communication. So this is what I'm going to do this evening. I'm going to just share with you some of my reflections, my hopes and my fears in this informal, relatively unprepared way with regard to the next twenty years.

And of course I can't resist just a little bit of as it were formality on the way, but there are nonetheless going to be three headings, as it were, and the three headings are `Self' as Heading One, then `Order-cum-Movement' - that's Heading Two - then simply, rather grandly, `World'.

So `Self'. Relative Self. I'm not being abstract or philosophical, I'm just speaking so-to- speak in my own person. I'm talking about myself, quite unabashedly, one might say.

So what about me? What about Sangharakshita? What about Bhante in the course of the next twenty years? What's going to happen to him? Well, very likely he's going to die in the course of the next twenty years. I'm not sure, I can't promise! I might linger on a few more years, who knows? I might even hit my century, who knows? My old mother's now nearly ninety-one, I might do as well as that, or nearly as well as that, but if I do come to an end, so to speak, so far as this physical body is concerned in the course of the next twenty years, I hope nobody will be too surprised because, as I said, that is the one thing we can be sure about, the fact of death.

So that's the first point really. I have as it were to expect or face up to the fact that in the course of the next twenty years I may simply disappear from the theme. Or if I don't literally disappear from the theme I probably won't have the energy and the robustness, if I may say so, to carry on doing what I have been doing these last twenty years and more.

So this of course makes it a very interesting and indeed a very important question, which is regard to the responsibilities which I at present have and which I have been I hope discharging in the course of the last twenty years, my responsibilities with regard to the Order and with regard to the Movement.

Some of you know I think that in the course of the last few years I have been making some effort to hand over those responsibilities, but I'm afraid there are still quite a few of them left. I was reckoning them up the other week and I was really quite surprised to find how many responsibilities, that is to say things which I do and which apparently I only can do at present, responsibilities which I have not yet been able to hand over. In fact it sometimes seems as though my responsibilities day by day and week by week far from diminishing have grown! So this is something that I've got to do something about in the course of the next twenty years and I hope within the course of the next four or five years I want to be able to hand over the responsibilities which I have not as yet been able to hand over, at least to the more senior and experienced members of the Order.

So this is something which I as it were in a manner of speaking foresee as something in the course of the next few years, if in fact I am around as long as that because we don't really know, and of course if you are around as long as that again, we don't really know, I hope to be able to hand over the last of my responsibilities.

And then of course the question arises, well, if Bhante's going to hand over his responsibilities, well what is he going to do? Is he going to retire, is he going to slip under a shady tree somewhere or lie in a hammock somewhere flung between two trees? Is he going to devote himself to reading the collective works of Dr. Samuel Johnson? Or the Encyclopedia Britannica? Or is he going to start learning Chinese or something like that or is he going to retire into a cave in the Himalayas, visa permitting, and devote himself to meditation? Or what is Bhante going to do? Well the answer is really quite simple. If Bhante succeeds in handing over these as it were more organizational-cum-spiritual responsibilities, he would like to do more writing, writing which hopefully will benefit not only himself but the Movement, and perhaps even people beyond the Movement too. Quite a lot of you know that I have been struggling to finish this second volume of memoirs for up to ten years nearly it is. I've written some 150,000 words, but that's only about half of that continuation volume.

There's still quite a lot more. After that there's another volume that I'd like to write and after that there's another, not of quite the same nature, but of the sort of autobiographical type.

So yes, I really would like to be able to devote more time to original literary work as well as perhaps to the editing of some of the transcripts of my seminars and earlier lectures, though in this connection I must also say that I rather hope that some of you will be able to give me a helping hand in that sort of editing work. There are quite ...

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