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My Eight Main Teachers

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by Sangharakshita

Tape 176: My Eight Main Teachers by Sangharakshita

[Note b = Bhikkhu] I think most of you are already aware that all my life I've been a great reader. And quite a few years ago, I think I must have been in my teens, I read a work by Hegel called The Philosophy of History. And in the course of The Philosophy of History, Hegel says that history moves from east to west. I may not exactly embody history, but I think I can say that in recent years, in recent decades, I have moved from east to west. 40 years ago today I was very much in India, as you've been reminded I was receiving my bhikku ordination. And 20 years ago I was back in England, moving from east to west. Manjuvajra's reminiscences by the way start from some of my own, because I do remember that retreat 20 years ago at, I think Keffolds in Sussex actually. I remember it very well, I remember it I'm afraid, I'm sorry to say, not because I met Manjuvajra, in fact I can't remember meeting him (laughter) - honesty is the best policy - I can't remember meeting him, for me that easter retreat for which I came back specially from the States, was rather overshadowed by the fact that I was very ill, and in fact I'm told I nearly died on that occasion. I recovered and went back to the States to do whatever I was doing there, and yes that was 20 years ago.

And now 20 years further on, I've moved again from east to west, and I'm back again in the United States and giving I'm glad to say, my very first talk in the United States under the auspices of our very own FWBO, which I'm very glad and happy to see flourishing in this particular place, and beginning to flourish in several other centres across this vast continent as well.

Now in the course of the last week, you've had a talk on the meaning of kalyana mitrata, spiritual friendship, which as you all know is absolutely central in Buddhism as envisaged by the FWBO.

You also had a talk on the Buddha, a talk on some of the great Buddhist teachers, and there's even been a talk on me. And tonight I'm going to talk about my own teachers, and I'm going to talk about them mainly by way of personal reminiscences, I'm not trying to give short, potted systematic biographies. Mainly just my own personal reminiscences. And of course in the course of my life I think I can say I have had very many teachers indeed. Not only Buddhist teachers, but in the earlier phase of my career in India, Hindu teachers, and before that of course there were secular teachers. And according to Buddhist tradition, your very first teachers are of course your parents - they're called the ??acaryas the old or original teachers, and they are also to be included in the list of one's teachers. In fact one can even go so far as to say one learns from every single person whom one meets in the course of one's life. One learns something or other. But obviously limits have to be imposed. I certainly can't want to talk about all my teachers, tonight I'm just going to reminisce about my eight most important Buddhist teachers, and obviously I'm not going to able to say very very much about any of them, but I hope that in the course of the next hour-and-a-half I shall be able to give you a glimpse of what they were like. Give you a glimpse of what they meant to me, and perhaps what they might come to mean to some of you.

I'm going to start off at the beginning, chronologically speaking, I'm going to start off with Bhikshu Jagadish Kasyapa. I don't know how many of you have heard his name before, so I'll just repeat it Bhikshu Jagadish Kasyapa. Kasyapgi as he was usually called, gi being an honorific suffix, was Indian, he was in fact a Bihari; Bihar being that province or that state in India in which Buddhagaya, where the Buddha was enlightened, is situated. He used to talk to me a bit about his earlier life, his ancestery. He came of respectable, peasant or small landholding stock and seems to have been a rather religious-minded youth, of course he was born as a Hindu, he was born into what's known as the kayasnam ?? caste in Bihar. And while he was still in his teens, he joined a hindu organization, a sort of hindu reform organization, called the Aryasamaj founded by Swami Dayananda Sarasvati in the last century, this particular samaj, this organization was opposed to image worship, not very much in favour of the caste system, and strongly emphasized vedic as opposed to paranic hinduism. Kasyapa joined the aryasamaj, became a hindu samyasim ?? and embarked upon the study of the Vedas, the most sacred scriptures of the hindus, the ?????????. He embarked on their study because these were the texts which the aryasamaj so strongly emphasized and all hindus believed that the vedas were the foundation of their faith, of their practice, contained all possible mysteries, and often hindus believe that the formula for the manufacture of the atom bomb is to be found in the vedas, so Kasyapa was very excited and very thrilled to be able to embark on the study of the vedas, and of course he had to learn sanskrit, including vedic sanskrit which is rather different to ???, classical sanskrit. But he was very disillusioned. He didn't find any wisdom, he told me, he didn't find any philosophy, he found hymns to this god, that god, especially hymns to Indra, a sort of thunder god, rather quarrelsome, rather fond of fighting, rather fond of ???, often getting drunk, a rather edifying sort of god, he found all sorts of rituals described, all sorts of chants, he found all sorts of magic spells, especially in the ???veda, to destroy your enemies and attract love and he felt well where is the sublime philosophy that I was promised? He used to say to me subsequently that the best way of weaning a hindu away from hinduism is to get them to study the vedas, because normally they're not studied, you very very rarely find even a brahmin who possesses a copy of the vedas, they're very rare indeed. You used to find the vedas in the libraries of the scholars in the west, you don't find them in India.

Anyway, to cut a rather long story short, he did become very disillusioned with the vedas, with the aryasamaj, with hindusim, so he started exploring other faiths. Sikkhism, Chinese ???, and Buddhism. And when he came upon Buddhism, which don't forget had been actually dead in India for 100s upon 100s of years, he decided that this was the faith, this was the religion for him, he went to Sri Lanka, he became a bhikku there, he studied pali at the ??? which was the institute of higher learning for Buddhist monks, and became in fact a tipitika-acarya, that is to say he studied the whole of the pali canon in the original pali language - in the royal thai edition this is some 45 volumes. Kasyapa had studied them all, and was therefore eventually granted this title. But though he had studied the tipitika in pali in Sri Lanka, though he'd become a bhikku there, he did not in fact have a very high opinion of the Sri Lankan bhikku sangha. He used to tell me some rather amusing stories which rather illustrated their approach to the Dharma, even their formalism... I remember him telling me once that, well I should explain that in Sri Lanka among the bhikkus there are various sects. There are 3 main sects, there's the ??????, so how do you tell them apart? They dress a little differently. The ramaniyanikaya? and the ??nikaya bhikkus, when they go out, out of the monastery, they cover both shoulders with their robes. The shamannikaya people do not: they leave the right shoulder bare. And there's a difference of umbrellas I might add while I'm on the subject. Shaman?? bhikkus carry a black umbrella, rama?? bhikkus carry a Burmese-style, parasole-type umbrella because they originate from Burma, the ??nikaya bhikkhus are very strict, they make do with a big plantain leaf. In this way you can tell them apart. So it's very important, apparently in Sri Lanka to know which nikaya a b belongs to, and bhikkhus I suppose like to know which nikaya, or sect of the sangha, another b who they happen to meet belongs to. Kasyapa was always being asked this question when he travelled around in Sri Lanka - 'which nikaya do you belong to?' So Kasyapa, who had after all come into Buddhism from the outside, was not a Sri Lankan, used to say 'Nikaya? I belong to Buddhanikaya'. So that didn't satisfy them at all, so they used to probe a little, and they used to ask him, he told me, 'well when you go out, when you leave the monastery, do you cover one shoulder, or do you cover two?' Kasyapa used to say 'well, when it's hot I cover two shoulders, when it's very hot, I cover only one, when it's very very hot I don't cover either'. So he could not be caught, and he used to tell me other stories too. He told me that one day he was giving a lecture, and he was invited to give a lecture on the anatta doctrine, the doctrine of no-self as it's usually translated, and he started off by saying that he couldn't understand what was meant by anatta, or non-self or no-self, unless you first of all understood what was meant by atta, or self. So at that moment, as soon as he'd said that, various Sri Lankan bhikkhus got to their feet and shouted 'we don't want any of that hindu philosphy here'. Kasyapa tried to explain he wasn't preaching hindu philosophy, he was only trying to clarify the concept of anatta, but they would not accept it, they actually shouted him down, they forced him to resume his seat. So he used to tell me stories like this, and at the end as I believe I've related in 1000-Petalled Lotus, he said to me, because as you know the pali tipitika, the pali scriptures, were admittedly preserved in Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan bhikkhus, but he said 'Sangharakshita' - this is how he used to talk - 'Sangharakshita, those Sinhalese bhikkhus, they are a set of monkeys, sitting on a treasure, the value of which they do not understand.' This is what he said. He also told me one or two little ...

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