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My Relation to the Order

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by Sangharakshita

... and not a problem-solver. Secondly I tried to explain what a guru was. He was one who stood on a higher level of being and consciousness than we did, one with whom we were in regular contact, on whatever plane, and one between whom and ourselves there was an `existential' contact and communication. Finally, I compared Eastern and Western attitudes towards the guru. In the East, I suggested, the guru was sometimes overvalued; in the West, usually undervalued. The proper course was to follow a middle way between the two extremes, simply recognizing that there were others more highly evolved than ourselves and that we could evolve through contact with them.

What was required was not absolute faith but contact and receptivity. In this way did I attempt, in effect, to revise the guru concept and rid the word `guru' of its unpleasant connotation. The tide was against me, and now, twenty years on, I would drop the guru concept and, as I said, preferably not apply the word `guru' to myself nor have it applied to me by others. We have in Buddhism the wonderful term `spiritual friend' and this I am more than content to apply to myself and to have applied to me by others. Indeed, there are times when I think that `spiritual friend' is almost too much and that just `friend' would be enough. The English word `spiritual' is in any case not the exact equivalent of the Indian word `kalyana'. According to the PTS Pali-English Dictionary, `kalyana' means `beautiful, charming, auspicious, helpful, morally good'. Obviously I cannot claim to be beautiful, at least not in the literal sense, and I can hardly be described as charming, though I may be auspicious and helpful on occasion and morally good to some extent. Let me, therefore, be content with the appellation `friend' and stand to the Order simply in the relation of friend.

Probably I have gone on about myself long enough, but I am afraid we have not yet finished with the subject, for having spoken about the importance of my relation to the Order, and about the nature of that relation, I must now speak about (iii) the person who has the relation, that person of course being myself. Perhaps you are surprised to hear me speaking about myself in this connection. Perhaps you took it for granted that I would speak about my relation to the Order without explicitly bringing myself into the picture. After all, that is what we often do: we leave ourselves out; we omit the personal factor from the equation. Some would even say that we ought to leave ourselves out. We ought to leave ourselves out because, paradoxically, there is no self to leave out. There are relations but no relata. This is miserable sophistry - at least in the present connection, and on the level on which I am speaking. That it is I, and no other, who stands to the Order in the relation of founder, preceptor, and so on, cannot but make a difference, both to the relation itself and to the Order. So who is it that has the relation to the Order? Who am I? I must confess I do not know. I am as much a mystery to myself as I probably am to you. Not that I am a mystery to everyone, apparently. Quite a lot of people know exactly who and what I am (I am speaking of people outside the Movement). Quite a lot of people `see' me. But they see me in different ways. This was very much the case when I lived in India. According to who it was that did the seeing, I was `the English monk', `a rabid Mahayanist', `a narrow-minded Hinayanist', `the Enemy of the Church', `a Russian spy', `an American agent', `the Editor of the Maha Bodhi', `an impractical young idealist', `a good speaker', `the invader of Suez', `the guru of the Untouchables', and so on. More recently, here in England, I have been `a good monk', `a bad monk', `the Buddhist counterpart of the Vicar of Hampstead', `the author of the Survey', `a crypto-Vajrayanist', `a lecturer at Yale', `the hippie guru', `a first-class organizer', `a traditionalist', `a maverick', `a misogynist', `a sexist', `a controversial figure', and `An Enlightened Englishman'.

All these different `sightings' have at least some truth in them, even though the people doing the `seeing' may have looked at me from the wrong angle, in the wrong kind of light, through tinted spectacles, or through the wrong end of the telescope. They may even have had spots floating before their eyes. The reason why all these different sightings have at least some truth in them is that I am a rather complex person. (Not that I am so very unusual in this respect. Some of you, too, are rather complex, as I know only too well.) It is partly because I am a rather complex person that I am a mystery to myself, even if not to others. But though I am a mystery to myself I am not, I think, so much of a mystery to myself as to cherish many illusions about myself. One of the illusions about myself that I do not cherish is that I was the most suitable person to be the founder of a new Buddhist movement in Britain - in the world, as it turned out. I possessed so few of the necessary qualifications; I laboured under so many disadvantages. When I look back on those early days, and think of the difficulties I had to experience (not that I always thought of them as difficulties), I cannot but feel that the coming into existence of the Western Buddhist Order was little short of a miracle. Not only did the lotus bloom from the mud; it had to bloom from the mud contained within a small and inadequate pot. Perhaps it had to bloom just then or not at all, and perhaps this particular pot was the only one available.

Now, hundreds of lotuses are blooming, some of the bigger and more resplendent flowers being surrounded by clusters of half-opened buds. During the last twenty-two years a whole lotus-lake has come into existence, or rather, a whole series of lotus-lakes. Alternatively, during the last twenty-two years the original lotus plant has grown into an enormous lotus-tree not unlike the great four-branched Refuge Tree - has in fact grown into a whole forest of lotus-trees. Contemplating the series of lotus-lakes, contemplating the forest of lotus-trees, and rejoicing in the strength and beauty of the lotus-flowers, I find it difficult to believe that they really did all originate from that small and inadequate pot, which some people wanted to smash to bits, or cast into the dustbin, or bury as deep as possible in the ground. In brief, dropping the metaphor and speaking quite plainly, when I see what a great and glorious achievement the Order represents, despite its manifest imperfections, I find it difficult to believe that I could have been its founder. Not long ago, in connection with the dropping of names from the Order register, I spoke of my having taken upon myself the onerous responsibility of founding the Western Buddhist Order. I indeed took that responsibility upon myself, and it was indeed an onerous one. Nonetheless, there are times when, far from feeling that it was I who took on the responsibility, I feel that it was the responsibility that took on me. There are times when I am dimly aware of a vast, overshadowing Consciousness that has, through me, founded the Order and set in motion our whole Movement.

Before going on to speak about the ways in which I relate to the Order, I want to make just one more point. It concerns my own limitations as a person. That one is a person at all means that one has certain limitations. Apart from such obvious limitations as those of nationality, language, and class (or caste), there are the limitations imposed by the fact that one is of a particular temperament and experiences life in a particular kind of way. One can hardly be of all temperaments and experience life in every kind of way. One is either introvert or extravert, Hellenist or Hebraist, Platonist or Aristotelian, Shraddhanusarin or Dharmanusarin, jnani or bhakta - though it is a case, more often than not, of one's being predominantly rather than exclusively the one or the other. That it is I, and not someone else, who stands to the Order in the relation of founder, preceptor, and so on, thus cannot but make a difference, as we have seen. But though it makes a difference that difference should not constitute a limitation. I am by temperament inclined to the humanities, let us say, rather than to science, and in teaching the Dharma I tend to present it in terms of the humanities, that is, in terms of literature, philosophy, and the fine arts. But this does not mean that those Order members who are by temperament more inclined to science should not present the Dharma in terms of nuclear physics or biology. The important thing is that the Dharma should be communicated to as many people as possible and this means communicating the Dharma in as many different ways as possible - always assuming, of course, that it is in fact the Dharma that is being communicated. In other words - and this is the point I want to make - my own personal limitations should not be the limitations of the Order. The Order should not be simply Sangharakshita writ large. Avalokiteshvara has a thousand hands, and each of the thousand hands holds a different object. Similarly, Order members of particular temperaments have different talents, aptitudes, and capacities, and in making their respective contributions to the life and work of the Order they should allow - you should allow - those talents, aptitudes, and capacities full scope. The Order should be a rich and many-splendoured thing, with all kinds of facets. It doesn't have to be just a lotus-lake, or even a series of lotus-lakes. It can also be a rose garden, or a cabbage patch, as you prefer.

To relate means to communicate, and (iv) the ways in which I relate to the Order are simply the different means I employ to communicate with Order members, both individually and `collectively'. My principal means of communication is the spoken and written word, as when I talk to ...

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