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The Transcendental Eightfold Path

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by Sangharakshita

Tape 185 - The Transcendental Eightfold Path

This morning I spoke about Buddhism, one of the three great themes of this Conference. But in reality there is no such thing as Buddhism - no such thing as Buddhism. Buddhism is an abstraction - it's just a word - there's nothing really corresponding to it. In reality there are only Buddhists: you and me. So this afternoon I am going to speak just about Buddhists and I'm going to speak about them, speak about us, in very practical terms. This morning we had quite a good dose of theory and that was necessary, its necessary for us as Buddhists to be concerned with theory - theory is, in fact, indispensable. Theory represents the philosophical underpinning of the practical - it represents the principle that makes the practice possible. But this afternoon we can leave it all to one side - we can take it as read. This afternoon I'm going to speak not about Buddhism but about Buddhists. So you can all sit back after your lunch and your rest and have a comparatively - a comparatively - easy time, while I speak about Buddhists. But what is a Buddhist? What is is that makes one - what is it that makes us - a Buddhist? Well, the answer is really very simple indeed: a Buddhist is one who Goes for Refuge to the Three Jewels, a Buddhist is one who Goes for Refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. A Buddhist is one who goes for Refuge to the Buddha as Buddha - as Enlightened One.

He or she has faith that the Buddha is the Enlightened One, not something else. I've mentioned, I think, that I spent some twenty years in India and Ven. Gunaratna has also spent some time in India and if one, of course, is in India one meets with Hindus - one meets with pious, religious-minded Hindus. And if one meets with pious, religious-minded Hindus and if one mentions the Buddha, if one mentions the name of the Buddha, they say, 'Oh yes, we know all about him. He is the nuba avatara.' * - that is to say, the ninth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. And of course if one is a Buddhist one has to disagree with that - that the Buddha is not the nuba avatara *, not the ninth incarnation of the god Vishnu as related in the Hindu Puranas - * because according to the Hindu Puranas * the Buddha was what they call the amitya avatara * , a false avatara who came to teach Buddhism and to teach especially the doctrine of non-violence so that people should stop making sacrifices, especially animal sacrifices, and stop pleasing the gods, the Vedic gods, and therefore not go to heaven. So this was the story about the Buddha which was put about in the Hindu Puranas * - that he was the mithya avatara * . So one had to disagree with this and say, 'Well, no. The Buddha is not an avatara, not a descent, not an incarnation. He's a human being, a human being who by his own efforts gained Enlightenment, supreme Enlightenment.' This was my experience in India; I very often had to disagree with my Hindu friends. Some of them were very good friends, but I still had to disagree with them.

And similarly the Buddha was not just a wise man, someone like say Socrates. So we don't Go for Refuge to the Buddha if we consider him just a wise man. We don't Go for Refuge to the Buddha if we consider him just as an ethical teacher, someone like Ethictitus. * If we have that sort of idea about the Buddha - if we have any idea about him other than that he is the Enlightened One - there's no Refuge, there's no Going for Refuge. Going for Refuge to the Buddha means Going for Refuge to him as the Enlightened One. Similarly, theTAPE5 0ÿx3"Ë"ÿx3"#);=Õt.BK!'&Õprogr'&ess sheeÕROGRE~1BK! 89öÊ"Ê"9öÊ"æÊå arma just as a subject of eclectic interest or the subject of merely academic interest. One can know quite a lot about the Dharma, especially in its historical manifestations, without Going for Refuge, without being actually a Buddhist. I won't say that academic knowledge about Buddhism is useless. It certainly has its own definite, limited value, but Going for Refuge to the Dharma is quite another matter.

Going for Refuge to the Sangha means Going for Refuge to the Sangha as to those who have personally realized the higher stages of the Transcendental Path, whether they have realized it in the past, realize it in the present, or will realize it in the future. It is to that Sangha that one Goes for Refuge. Sometimes it's said that one Goes for Refuge to the bhikkhu Sangha, to the order of monks, but this is not at all correct. The Sangha to which one Goes for Refuge consists of both monks and lay-people, indeed, on this level the significance of monk and lay hasn't really very much bearing.

So these, very briefly, are the Three Jewels and it's Going for Refuge to these Three Jewels that makes one a Buddhist. But there's something else also that makes one a Buddhist, and that is the observance of ethical precepts. These precepts are an expression of one's Going for Refuge. If one does not observe them - or, at least, is not making a serious effort to observe them - it means that one is not really Going for Refuge. So let me say just a few words about the four basic precepts, ethical precepts. But before I do that I want to make just a point with regard to the Refuges.

You may have notice that I speak of Going for Refuge, I don't speak of Taking Refuge or Taking the Refuges. Many Western Buddhists, however, do this: they talk of Taking Refuge with Bhikkhu So-and-so or Taking the Refuges with Lama So-and-so, but the original Pali and Sanskrit expression is definitely 'I go' - gacchami - 'I go'. It isn't 'I take' - 'I go', gacchami. And this difference is, I think, quite important. Going for Refuge is an action, it's something that one does.

It's an action away from oneself, even an action out of oneself. It's a movement towards something, a movement towards someone, infinitely greater than oneself. One can even speak of this Going for Refuge as a surrender of oneself. But Taking Refuge or Taking the Refuges has a rather different sort of connotation. It suggests appropriation; it suggests trying to make the Three Jewels yours in an egoistic sense, rather than trying to make yourself theirs. It suggests almost trying to grab the Three Jewels. And this brings us to a very important general point - and perhaps here, just for the sake of a little change, I can be a bit autobiographical.

I personally came in contact with Buddhism more than fifty years ago and that was in London - London, England perhaps I should say. At that time there was only one Buddhist group in London -and very likely in the whole of Great Britain - and it had perhaps a dozen active members, just a dozen. I can remember us meeting during the war. We met in a little room in Central London not very far from the British Museum and I can remember that on one occasion we were sitting there, meditating - well, at least we were just sitting there with our eyes closed and trying to experience some inner peace - we were sitting there meditating and suddenly there was a terrific noise and the windows rattled - of course, a bomb had fallen. It was wartime. But I am very glad to say that nobody moved - nobody moved. You know, whether this was Buddhist equanimity or British phlegm I'm not so sure, but nobody moved. Perhaps we were all waiting for somebody else to move first but we sat there and we finished our meditation. So that was Buddhism in Britain fifty years ago.

Well, now there's at least a couple of dozen flourishing Buddhist groups just in London, including four or five FWBO groups, and there are hundreds of Buddhist groups in Britain, throughout the country. And of course, as you all know very well, there's the Zen here in America. Here there are probably several thousand Buddhist groups, large and small, representing nearly all the eastern Buddhist traditions. We have, as you know, Tibetan Buddhism: we've got the Nyingmapas, the Kargyupas, and the Gelugpas, and all their various sub-divisions.

I think there are about fourteen to sixteen sub-divisions of the Kagyupas alone. And then we've got the Theravada: we've got Sri Lankan Theravada, Burmese Theravada, Thai Theravada, Cambodian Theravada, and of course all the various forms of Vipassana: the very, very strict and the relatively liberal and so on and so forth. And we've got Ch'an or Zen in various forms: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese. We've got also Pure Land Buddhism; we've got Chijon *; we've got Nichiren - all with many different sub-divisions.

And these have all come to the West, at least as addressed to Westerners, within the last twenty or thirty years. I'm not referring here, of course, to the so-called ethnic Buddhist communities.

These have all come to the West within the last twenty or thirty years. And this is really a tremendous, a radical, cultural development. Between them, all these different groups and Buddhist traditions represent a vast expansion of our spiritual horizons. Before, our knowledge of religion was limited to Christianity and perhaps we'd just about heard of Islam, perhaps if we'd read about the Crusades, huh? But now, well, not to speak just of Buddhism, we know, at least we've heard, of so many different religions of the world and this, within the field of Buddhism itself alone, there's been this vast expansion of our spiritual horizon.

Again - reminiscing a bit - when I was a teenager in London, you never heard about yoga, you never heard about meditation but nowadays in Britain I think almost every person has heard about yoga, almost every person has heard about meditation so that, even if in a very ordinary British family, your son or your daughter tells you, 'Well, I'm going along to a Buddhist group and I'm meditating.' no-one is the least surprised, it's not unusual - same with vegetarianism.

There have been these great changes. ...

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