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My Relation to the Order

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by Sangharakshita

... some ethically neutral way of life that can be combined, without modification, with the pursuit of Enlightenment. There are both skilful and unskilful life-styles, life-styles that represent an expression of one's commitment to the Three Jewels and life-styles that do not represent such an expression. For those individuals who go for Refuge, or who seek to go for Refuge, the best life- style - circumstances permitting - is one that contains a strong single-sex element, either by virtue of the fact that one lives in a single-sex spiritual community and/or works in a single-sex co- operative or by virtue of the fact that one is a regular participant in single-sex retreats, study groups, etc. This single-sex idea, as we rather inelegantly call it, is one of the comparatively neglected ideas and ideals now being re-affirmed as a result of the new-style men's ordination process. Closely connected with the single-sex idea are the ideas of deep and direct communication, of spiritual friendship, of `Going Forth', and of psycho-spiritual androgyny. These ideas, too, are now being re-affirmed as a result of the new-style men's ordination process.

Another idea now being re-affirmed is that of the need for clearer thinking. Only too often our thinking is lamentably unclear and confused. It is therefore important that we should talk things out, or talk things through, to a much greater extent than we are in the habit of doing. It is in fact important that we should clarify issues generally, whether these issues happen to be of a practical or a theoretical nature and whether they relate to our personal lives, to the world at large, to the different fields of human activity, or to the basic teachings of Buddhism. In particular it is important that we should clarify issues relating to the meaning and significance of the Western Buddhist Order/ Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha, for unless we are clear about these issues ourselves we shall not be able to clarify them for mitras who have asked for ordination or, for the matter of that, for anyone else. Mitras who have asked for ordination have, after all, asked for ordination into the Western Buddhist Order - more often than not quite explicitly, as some of you will recollect doing yourselves. They have not asked simply to `become Buddhists', or to `be ordained' in some vague, general sense. They have asked to be allowed to take the most important step in their lives under our auspices and in the sense that we understand that step. It is therefore not enough for us to acquaint them with the meaning and significance of Going for Refuge and `taking' the Ten Precepts. We have also to acquaint them with the meaning and significance - with the distinctive nature - of the Western Buddhist Order, so that they know on what principles the Order is based and can decide whether they do, in fact, want to be a `part' of it - whether they do, in fact, want to be one of the thousand arms of Avalokiteshvara. All this calls for clear thinking.

Without clear thinking on the part of Order members, especially on the part of those who are directly concerned with the ordination process, whether as Chapter members or as members of a men's or a women's ordination team, it is difficult for a mitra who has asked for ordination to deepen his or her Going for Refuge to the point where provisional Going for Refuge begins to be transformed into effective Going for Refuge. Without clear thinking it is also difficult - perhaps even impossible - for an Order member to deepen his or her effective Going for Refuge to the point where, Insight arising, it begins to be transformed into real Going for Refuge. Lack of clear thinking is, indeed, one of the three principal reasons why Order members drift away from the Movement and eventually have to be dropped from the Order register, the two other reasons being the discontinuance of their daily meditation, especially the visualization and mantra-recitation practice they received at the time of ordination, and the disruption of their personal relationship with me.

This brings me, at last, to the first of the two topics I was unable to deal with two years ago, viz.

my own relation to the Order. But first I want to say a few words about the dropping of names from the Order register. As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, in the course of the last two years ten Order members have had their names dropped from the Order register (none were, I think, dropped before that). I need hardly say that for me the necessity of dropping someone's name from the register is an extremely painful one, the pain being perhaps more than commensurate with the happiness I felt at their ordination. I also need hardly say that no one's name has been dropped without a good deal of consideration on my part and without their having been out of touch with me, and out of touch with the Movement, for upwards of half a decade, as was the case with almost all those whose names have been dropped in the course of the last two years. At the same time I would like to make it clear that, painful as it is for me to drop an Order member's name from the Order register, I find it still more painful when the presence of someone's name on the register signifies a purely nominal membership of the Order on their part. There were several reasons why, twenty-two years ago, I took upon myself the onerous responsibility of founding the Western Buddhist Order. One reason was that I was dissatisfied with `Buddhist' organizations whose membership was, for the most part, only nominally Buddhist - perhaps not even that. I wanted to have an organization that was genuinely Buddhist, which meant having one whose members were all Buddhists, that is, whose members all actually went for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Thus it was that on Sunday, 7 April 1968, I founded not another `Buddhist society' but a Spiritual Community or Order - the Western Buddhist Order. You therefore can understand how disappointed I am when someone drifts away from the Movement and allows their membership of the Order to become purely nominal. You can understand why it is impossible for me to acquiesce in such a state of affairs indefinitely and why I eventually have to drop their name from the Order register. Though I would dearly love to have a big Order, with tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of Order members, I would much rather have a small Order, all the members of which were real Order members, than have a big Order that contained even a sprinkling of those whose membership of the Order was purely nominal. Having said this, however, I would like to say that Order members whose names have been dropped from the Order register can have them reinstated and can, if necessary, be re-ordained, as can Order members who have resigned. A bhikkhu is permitted to join and re-join the Monastic Order up to seven times and we should not be less generous. But someone wishing to have their name reinstated on the Order register will have to clarify their thinking; they will have to resume their daily meditation practice, and they will have to renew their personal relationship with me.

Thus I am again brought to the topic of my relation to the Order, and to this we must now turn. The first thing that occurred to me, when I started preparing this paper, was that besides the question of my relation to the Order there was the question of the Order's relation to me - of your relation to me. But on second thoughts I realized that it was not really possible for me to share with you some of my current thinking as regards my own relation to the Order without, at the same time, sharing with you some of my current thinking as regards the Order's relation to me, if only by implication.

My relation to the Order and the Order's relation to me were the two sides of a single coin. In sharing with you some of my current thinking concerning our mutual relation I shall, however, be speaking mainly in terms of my relation to the Order, leaving it to you to work out for yourselves what this implies in terms of your relation to me.

But first I must warn you that my current thinking about my relation to the Order is not particularly systematic. It is still very much `work in progress'. Just how unsystematic my thinking was I realized only when, as my custom is before starting work on a lecture or paper, I jotted down my thoughts on the subject in the order in which they occurred to me. After half an hour I had several dozen such `thoughts', and there did not seem to be much connection between them. As I gazed at the sheet of A4 on which I had jotted them down, however, they seemed - like the phenomena of mundane existence - to distribute themselves into five `heaps'. In sharing with you my current thinking about my relation to the Order I shall, therefore, be speaking about (i) the importance of my relation to the Order, about (ii) the nature of that relation, about (iii) the person who has that relation, namely myself, about (iv) the ways in which I relate to the Order, and about (v) the future of my relation to the Order - or my future relation to the Order, as I should perhaps put it. The order in which I have enumerated these five `heaps' of thoughts is not necessarily the logical one (if indeed there is a logical one), and there may well be a certain amount of overlap between them, with some thoughts appearing in more than one `heap'.

My relation to the Order is (i) important, that is, important to me (I leave aside for the moment the fact that it is important to you). It is important to me because you are important to me, both individually and collectively. You are important to me by virtue of the fact that you are human beings who live and must die, who experience pleasure and experience pain. You are important to me by virtue of the fact that you have gone for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and ...

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