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The Five Pillars of the FWBO

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 174: The Five Pillars of the FWBO

Urgyen Sangharakshita Friends, I think it was more than twenty years ago that I paid my first visit to Greece, which of course for me meant Ancient Greece, Classical Greece; and among other places I visited Delphi. I'd been wanting to visit Delphi for quite a number of years, and at last my wish, my ambition, was fulfilled. And among other sites, I saw the ruins of the great temple of the God Apollo. And as I wandered round looking at the ruins of that great temple, and saw it and the other sites, I couldn't help recalling, I couldn't help remembering that in Ancient days - in the days of the glory that was Greece, when the temple stood four square and beautiful, and not at all in ruins - I could not help recalling, I could not help remembering that over the portal of the temple of Apollo there was an inscription, an inscription that was famous throughout the whole of the Classical world, and an inscription that is not unknown even today, which was of course `Know Thyself'. Know Thyself. The Ancient Greeks of course had a certain understanding of these words. We, perhaps, understand these words in another way, not quite in the Ancient Greek way. But, in whatsoever way we understand these gnomic words, it's certainly not easy to understand, to know, onself. One could even go so far as to say that when we're young - that is to say roughly when we're under forty [Laughter] we don't usually know ourselves at all.

Usually when we are young, especially when we are very young, we are quite blind, we are quite ignorant, and not only do we not know ourselves, we do not even think in those terms, we don't even think in terms of knowing ourself. Perhaps it doesn't even occur to us that there is, so to speak, something there to know which we don't know.

So self knowledge is not something that we prize, at that stage, that early stage of our life. It's only quite a bit later on in life that we really start - even start - knowing ourselves. And sometimes it's very much later on in life that we start knowing ourselves. We start knowing ourselves, we may say, partly just as the natural result, so to speak, of our ordinary human maturity. And partly we begin knowing ourselves as the result of our increased experience of ordinary life, especially our increased experience of other people. The people with whom we come into contact in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons, in the course of our lives. And, of course, very often that experience, including that experience of and with other people, is painful, even very painful indeed. And we may even go so far as to say that, very often, it's only through painful experiences that we start to know ourselves. Be that as it may, in any case, self-knowledge is something that we achieve to any degree, to any depth, to any extent, comparatively late in life. It's something that we achieve slowly. It doesn't come all at once.

It's something that we achieve only with difficulty.

And this is true, not only of the individual, not only of the individual man and woman, it's also true of what we may term `the collectivity'. The Ancient Greeks as a whole, we may say, the Ancient Greeks as a collectivity, did not know themselves. The Athenian people did not know itself - at least, we may say, the Athenian people did not know itself until after the Peloponnesian War. Medieval England did not know itself, and modern America perhaps does not know itself. One might even argue that the group as such never knows itself. At most the group knows itself, so to speak, in the person of just a few individuals who are more than just members of their particular group. Individuals like - in the case of Ancient Greece - Thucydides. But it is not only the group, not only the ethnic collectivity, that does not know itself. A spiritual community does not know itself, a spiritual movement does not know itself.

The FWBO does not know itself. That is to say doesn't know itself until later on in its history - not at the beginning. Today we celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the FWBO. Today the FWBO is 23 years old. We attained our collective majority two years ago. We could then say that we were collectively - even if not individually always, collectively at least - grown up. So we should, as a movement, be a little bit mature, a little bit experienced. We should be beginning, as a movement, to know ourselves.

We should be beginning to see ourselves.

So beginning to see ourselves as we do, what do we see? That is, how do we see the FWBO? How do we see the spiritual movement to which we belong, and of which we are a part? Speaking personally, I see the FWBO in a number of different ways. It's not that I see it in the same one single way all the Lecture 172: The Five Pillars of the FWBO Page 1 time. I see it in quite a number of different ways. I see it, to speak in images, I see it as a tree, or perhaps I should say I see it as a sapling. A sapling that has sprung from a seed planted 23 years ago. A sapling that is already bearing fruit. That is already providing shelter and nourishment for thousands of people in many different parts of the world. I see the FWBO also as a lotus bed, a bed of lotuses. That image, I think, will be very familiar to quite a number of you. I see it also as a garden, another familiar image. I see it as a road. I see it as a raft. I see it as all these things. But I also see it as a temple. I see it as a really magnificent temple. A temple that began 23 years ago as just a very tiny, improvised shrine.

I see it as a temple that is still very much in process of construction. In fact here and there we can see great building blocks that have not yet been incorporated into the overall structure. Some people, of course, looking at the FWBO from a great distance, don't see it as a temple at all. They may see it as, let's say, a fortress, or they may see it as a factory [Laughter] or they may see it as a barracks [Laughter]. Some of them, indeed, though they seem to be looking in the right direction, don't see anything at all! [Laughter] But it's not easy to see the FWBO as a temple. It's not easy to see the FWBO as it really is, even when one is quite close up to it. In fact it's not easy to see it, it's not even easy to know it, even when one is standing right inside it. But standing right inside it, right inside this temple that is the FWBO what in fact does one see? What sort of things does one see? Well one could say that one sees space, one sees light, one sees a multitude of great golden figures, one sees enormous vistas, one sees a dome even overarching above, a dome like that of the sky itself. One sees multiple arches, and above all perhaps one sees, round the central shrine of the temple five mighty pillars.

[Laughter] Five pillars that support the entire edifice. One sees the Five Pillars of the FWBO, and it's about these five pillars - not pillows! - pillars! [Laughter] Don't mistake me! - these five pillars that I want to speak this afternoon.

But first a word or two of warning. Please don't take my five pillars too literally. I'm afraid I have sometimes to complain that people do take my words, my images even, rather more literally than they were intended. So please don't take my five pillars too literally. Don't think that there are only five, no more and no less. Don't go and tell someone, `well Bhante said there's five pillars and there's just five' [Laughter]. One doesn't have to take it quite so literally as that. There may be other pillars that I haven't mentioned. There may even be other pillars that I haven't seen. After all even Bhante doesn't see everything! [Laughter] So, moreover don't think of the pillars as being necessarily pillars of stone. Don't think of them as being something hard, something fixed, something rigid. The Bible, for instance, speaks of `pillars of cloud' and `pillars of fire', and we can also have pillars of light, pillars of radiance. We can have pillars of living light, pillars of living radiance. So let's think of our five pillars also in these sort of terms.

So what are these Five Pillars of the FWBO? The Five Pillars of the FWBO are: Ideas; Practices; Institutions; Experiment, and Imagination. So first, Ideas are a pillar of the FWBO. But what is an idea? By idea I don't mean just a concept. I don't mean simply a mental object. I mean something rather like what we have in mind when we speak of a `bright idea'. An idea of this kind can usually be expressed in just one or two words. It's something really very simple, and in a sense, though only in a sense, something abstract. But though abstract in a sense, an idea is at the same time something that is seen as being full of possibilities. It's seen as opening up new vistas, new horizons, and hence an idea is capable of stimulating people. An idea excites people, it stirs them up. An idea is very often very moving, and more often than not such an idea moves people to action. It moves them to change things. It moves them to change themselves, to change even the world. People very often are ready even to die for the sake of an idea. Ideas therefore occupy an important place in human life. They occupy an important place in history, and sometimes it's ideas that change history. In Ancient Greece - to refer again to Ancient Greece - there was Plato's idea, his great idea, of justice. The great idea that dominates his most famous dialogue - `The Republic' - the idea of justice. Though it's not quite justice in the sense of the English word, but near enough. There's Plotinus' idea of `emanation'. There's the medieval idea of `degree', or as we would say nowadays, ...

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