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The Transcendental Eightfold Path

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by Sangharakshita

... So, we're presented nowadays, spiritually speaking, with marvellous opportunities, opportunities for understanding and practising so many different forms of Buddhism. But - but - there's also a danger. And the danger is what may be called 'spiritual consumerism' or perhaps I should say 'pseudo-spiritual consumerism'.

Nowadays we're consumers almost by definition - 'I consume, therefore I am' or 'I shop, therefore I am' - that just about sums up our philosophy. And of course there's a danger that we bring this attitude with us - this consumerist attitude - when we approach Buddhism itself, especially when Buddhism is presented to us in so many tempting varieties, so wonderful, so mysterious, so exotic, so fascinating. We can't sort of wait to just get our little sticky paws on them. We can in fact speak almost of a sort of smorgasbord * of spiritual goodies, just waiting there to be devoured. And so we sort of pick and choose, as the fancy takes us, and we become, not Buddhists, not people who Go for Refuge - we become just consumers of Buddhism.

So, to be a Buddhist consumer, or rather, a consumer of Buddhism, is the very antithesis of transformation - which is, of course, another of the great themes with which we're concerned in this Conference. In consumerism we assimilate Buddhism to ourselves, we assimilate it at least in its externals, assimilate it to our own greed, our own hatred, our own delusion but in transformation we assimilate ourselves to Buddhism. One of the most prominent features of our consumer society is advertising - the more advertising, the more consumption; the more consumption, the more ... The more advertising, the more consumption, and the more consumption, the more advertising, because out of your profits you of course invest a certain amount in further advertising and it becomes a vicious circle. And nowadays of course Buddhism itself comes to be advertised.

Up to a point, this is not a bad thing. We can certainly advertise such things as meditation cushions and incense. We can even advertise courses and classes in Buddhism. But there are some things which simply cannot be advertised. We cannot advertise Enlightenment and we cannot advertise such things as Tantric initiation - yet this is what is happening. More than thirty years ago I myself received a number of Tantric initiations. I received them in Kalimpong and Darjeeling, in the Eastern Himalayas.

I lived in Kalimpong, by the way, for some fourteen years. For fourteen years that was my headquarters and I was very fortunately situated. I arrived there in 1950 and I left in 1964 so I was there when refugee Tibetan Lamas started pouring out of Tibet, especially after 1959 when His Holiness also left Tibet and took refuge in India. So I was ideally situated, as it were, to intercept some of the greatest and most famous and eminent of these refugee Tibetan Lamas, Nyingmapa, Gelugpa, Shakyapa and Kagyupa. And I was so fortunate as to be able to receive teachings and initiations from a number of them. They're nearly all dead now, I'm sorry to say.

Only one of them - that is Chetul Sangye Dorje - is still alive.

And I mention this because, at that time, when I received those Tantric initiations I was told Tantric initiation is a very secret thing, Tantric initiation is a very sacred thing - it's not to be talked about. In fact, one of my Tibetan Lama teachers told me that I was permitted to speak about a particular initiation I had received only with one other person whom he named. That was how secret it was in those days. But nowadays, in the West, Tantric initiation is actually being advertised. Even Anuttara Yoga Tantra - the highest yoga tantra - is being advertised. One enrols for a weekend course, one pays one's fee, and one gets initiated, perhaps along with several hundred other people, and one doesn't have to prepare oneself, one doesn't even have to be a Buddhist. And this is certainly not in accordance with the Buddhist Vajrayana tradition.

I remember one of my teachers telling me that if one wanted to practise Anuttara Yoga Tantra one first of all had to practise the Hinayana - he used the term 'Hinayana', nowadays we usually say 'Theravada' - for twelve years; one then practised the Mahayana for six years; then one practised the Outer Tantra for six years; and only then would one be considered ready to receive Anuttara Yoga Tantra initiation. But nowadays it seems one can do it all in the course of a weekend. Of course, some teachers will justify this - they will say that they are planting seeds, seeds which will mature in the future - but I must say that I personally reject this explanation as a shameful rationalization. If one really wants to plant seeds one should teach Buddhist ethics.

And that brings me back to the Precepts, back to the four basic precepts, about which I promised to say a few words. But first let me clear up a possible misunderstanding. I've said we should not become consumers of Buddhism, should not pick and choose from the spiritual smorgasbord, * but of course we may have to study several forms of Buddhism before we find one to which we can wholeheartedly commit ourselves. But we should study them seriously and once we've committed ourselves to a certain form of Buddhism, a certain tradition, we should stick to it at least, I would say, for ten to fifteen years. At the same time we should maintain a friendly attitude towards other forms of Buddhism and the followers of other forms of Buddhism, and try to see, try to understand, what it is that we have in common with them because, after all, we are all Buddhists. We all Go for Refuge, regardless of the particular tradition within which we Go for Refuge - though it must be admitted that some traditions place more emphasis on the Going for Refuge and others less.

Now for the four basic ethical principles. As I've said, they are the expression of one's Going for Refuge. Not only that. They are not just an expression of it, they also support it, because one cannot really and truly Go for Refuge while one is leading a thoroughly unethical life. The four basic ethical precepts are not rules in the narrow, literalistic sense. They're much more like principles of ethical behaviour and we can speak of them as, let's say, the principle of non-violence, the principle of non-appropriation, the principle of chastity, and the principle of truthfulness. So let me say a few words about each of these. There's quite a lot that could be said - one could give a complete lecture on each of these principles - but obviously time is limited and I do want to leave a certain amount of time this afternoon for questions and, perhaps, answers.

So, first of all, the principle of non-violence: this means that we should refrain from harming or hurting others and, in particular, that we should refrain from killing or injuring them. Violence means, fundamentally, the assertion of one's own ego at the expense of another. In its extremest form it means the physical elimination of another in one's own personal interest. Violence thus represents a denial, a negation, of the fundamental human solidarity. It represents a radical assertion of separative selfhood. It also represents an inability to identify imaginatively with another person.

This puts me in mind of a little incident which featured in the news in Britain, unfortunately, a few months ago. Two little boys - aged, I think, ten and eleven - killed another little boy aged five or six and these two little boys who committed the murder were found guilty of murder and they were sentenced. And the question was raised whether these little boys who committed the murder knew the difference between right and wrong, because if they did not - or if it could be proved that they did not - understand the difference between right and wrong they could not be convicted of murder. And apparently they had been interviewed by a psychiatrist and she discovered that they knew the difference between right and wrong, even though they'd committed the murder.

So she went, afterwards, a little into the question why, when they knew the difference between right and wrong, they had committed the murder and she said it was due to a lack of empathy with their victim. If you empathize with other people you can't harm them, you can't hurt them, you can't commit violence against them.

So violence represents an inability to identify imaginatively with another person, inability to put yourself in the position of the other person, an inability to empathize with the person, to feel with that person, to feel that person's feeling as your own. To the violent person, another person is simply an object, a thing. Violence is thus the negation of ethical and spiritual life and non-violence in some ways represents the fundamental principle of Buddhism. There is one text, actually, which does say this - that non-violence is the supreme dharma - and that is the Mahavastu, which is a text of the Lokuttaravadins. If you sincerely try to practise non-violence you'll find, in the long-run, that you're practising every other Buddhist virtue - in principle, they're all contained in non-violence.

Secondly, there is the principle of non-appropriation. Violence is based on a strong sense of 'I' and appropriation is based on a strong sense of 'mine' - the two go together. Of course - we may say, we may argue - not all appropriation is wrong. We may take what we really need but we must not take what belongs to others, either by force or by fraud - in other words, we must not steal.

And then, thirdly, the principle of chastity: this relates obviously to our sexual behaviour and it means in the first place that we should not exploit others sexually, should not obtain sexual satisfaction for ourselves by means of force, or fraud, or misrepresentation. Sex, as everybody knows, is a very ...

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