Transcribing the oral tradition...

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Extending the Hand of Fellowship

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by Sangharakshita

... speak of five Buddhist worlds and five forms of Buddhism, with one of the forms, the Theravada, belonging to the Hinayana, and the remaining four to the Mahayana. This is what I have done, in effect, in A Survey of Buddhism, where having described the different characteristics of the Hinayana and the Mahayana in Chapter II, in Chapter III I utilize the teaching of the five (spiritual) faculties or indriyas as a principle for the schematization of the Mahayana schools. Applying this principle, I was able to arrive at a list of four movements within the Mahayana, which eventually crystallized into four schools. There was an intellectual movement that represented a development of the faculty of wisdom (prajna) and found expression in the Madhyamikavada or New Wisdom School[1], a devotional movement that represented a development of the faculty of faith (sraddha) and found expression in the Buddhism of Faith and Devotion, a meditative movement that represented a development of the faculty of meditation (samadhi) and found expression in the Yogachara-Vijnanavada or Buddhist Idealism, and an activistic movement that represented the faculty of vigour (virya) and found expression in the Tantra, or Magical Buddhism. Mindfulness (smrti), the fifth (spiritual) faculty, was represented in the history of Buddhism by the various syncretist movements which from time to time endeavoured to bring the different schools into harmony. Out of the four Mahayana schools here enumerated, three have not only survived in the East as distinct forms of Buddhism down to the present but also have been introduced in the West. Thus the Buddhism of Faith and Devotion appears in our midst as Pure Land Buddhism, Buddhist Idealism as Zen, and the Tantra as Tibetan Buddhism. The teachings of the New Wisdom School survive as an important element in both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. As for the Theravada, this has of course survived in the East as a distinct form of Buddhism down to the present and appears in our midst in various South-east Asian garbs.

In speaking of the relation of the Order to the rest of the Buddhist world one is therefore speaking of it as having, for all practical purposes, four separate relations, one to the Theravada, one to Pure Land Buddhism, one to Zen, and one to Tibetan Buddhism, each of which inhabits a world of its own, with its distinctive manners and customs, even its distinctive atmosphere, and which more often than not is only vaguely aware of the greater Buddhist world to which, in principle, it belongs. In each case the nature of the relation will be determined, at least to an extent, by certain developments within the form of Buddhism to which the Order happens to be relating, as will transpire in the next section of this paper, when I deal with the principle of orthodoxy. Let me therefore conclude this section by saying something about the more general characteristics of the Theravada, of Pure Land Buddhism, of Zen, and of Tibetan Buddhism, especially in so far as these characteristics constitute for us in the Order, as well as throughout the FWBO, a source of inspiration and spiritual guidance. First, however, I want to say a few words about the Buddhist world in the geographical sense.

In the course of my lifetime, at least, the portion of the earth's surface traditionally covered by Buddhism has shrunk dramatically. This fact is highlighted, with stark clarity, in an article published in a recent issue of Tricycle. Commenting on the undermining of Buddhism in Tibet, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia through the destruction of the monastic framework upon which the Buddhist community in those countries depended, Stephen Batchelor writes: Indeed, it is remarkable to compare the extent of the Buddhist world fifty years ago with what remains today. Never in human history has such a major world religion diminished in size and influence so rapidly. Three or four revolutions in the right places would more or less eliminate traditional Buddhism from the face of the earth.[2] It is a sobering thought, especially when we consider that during the last fifty years both Christianity and Islam have expanded enormously (though not at the expense of Buddhism itself), with the result that Buddhism is now the smallest and in certain respects the least influential of the three great world religions. The only bright spots in an otherwise quite gloomy picture are India, where up to ten million followers of the late Dr B.R. Ambedkar have become Buddhists in recent years, and Western Europe, the Americas, and Australasia, where the seed of the Buddha's teaching is steadily taking root in the hearts of thousands of practitioners. Even in those Buddhist countries which have not suffered under Communism, like Thailand and Japan, the demands of consumerism are eroding traditional values and the way of life based on them. Those values are also being eroded by the behaviour of some of their official custodians. On the very day I started writing this paper came the news that a Thai monk addicted to amphetamines had been charged with murdering and robbing a 23-year-old English woman solicitor missing for more than a month on a backpacking holiday. The monk confessed that three days before committing the murder he had raped another woman tourist. Giving details of the case, the South-east Asia correspondent of a leading daily wrote: Buddhism in Thailand has been rocked by a series of scandals in recent months. A revered abbot was charged with raping hill tribe girls in his care, a preacher was unfrocked amid allegations of sexual impropriety; a novice was arrested for roasting a still-born baby on a spit in a black magic ritual and six monks were charged with murdering a fellow monk.[3] Scandals have also rocked the Tibetan diaspora in India, where there were unseemly dissensions between the supporters of rival candidates for the throne of the deceased Karmapa, the immensely wealthy head of the Karma Kagyu School. In the course of these dissensions acts of violence were committed, and an eminent lama died in what many regarded as suspicious circumstances.[4] While we must be careful not to extrapolate too freely from the facts, occurrences such as those reported from Thailand and the Tibetan diaspora suggest that, undermined as it is both from without and within, traditional Buddhism is in a state of decline, and that committed Buddhists everywhere need to give serious thought to the question of how best to preserve the Dharma for the benefit of future generations. One of the ways in which we of the Western Buddhist Order can help preserve the Dharma is by acquainting ourselves with the general characteristics of the Theravada, of Pure Land Buddhism, of Zen, and of Tibetan Buddhism, especially in so far as these characteristics constitute a source of inspiration and spiritual guidance to us, and it is to the four schools and their scriptures that we must now turn.

The Theravada is based on the Pali Tipitaka or `Three Baskets', that is to say, the Vinaya-Pitaka, the basket or collection of monastic discipline, the Sutta-Pitaka, the basket or collection of the Buddha's sayings and discourses, and the Abhidhamma-Pitaka, the basket or collection of further, i.e. more `philosophical', teaching, as well as upon the various commentaries to these texts. So far, at least, we have tended to derive inspiration and guidance from what appear to be the older portions of the Tipitaka, especially from the Sutta-nipata, the Udana, the Itivuttaka, the Dhammapada, and the Thera- and Theri-gatha, all of which belong to the Sutta-Pitaka, as do the Digha- and Majjhima-Nikayas, select discourses from which are also a source of inspiration and guidance for some of us. The only non-canonical Theravadin text to which we have regular recourse is Buddhaghosa's Visuddhi-magga, the second section of which, on samadhi, is particularly useful. All the texts I have mentioned inculcate harmlessness, non-attachment, tranquillity, contentment, forbearance, kindness, mindfulness, effort, and discrimination, and it is these which are the general characteristics of the Theravada, at its best, as well as being among the essential, definitive qualities of the spiritual life. The same texts also give us, between them, a more vivid impression of the Buddha in his (enlightened) human, historical reality than do any other scriptures, with the possible exception of such portions of the Sanskrit counterpart of the Sutta-Pitaka as survive in the original language or in Chinese or Tibetan translation. This does not mean that the historical necessarily excludes the `legendary'. As Reginald A. Ray has lately reminded us: Western and modernist notions of a demythologized individuality standing apart from and independent of symbol, cult, and legend have no relevance for the early Buddhist case. Gautama, in his own time and in subsequent times, was able to be the Buddha precisely because he was understood to embody, in an unprecedented way, the cosmic and transcendent. Far from being incidental to who he was, myth and cult define his essential person, for his earliest followers as for later Buddhists.[5] In my own words, commenting on Ray's assertion, `we come closest to the historical Buddha precisely when we take the legendary and cultic idiom of his hagiographical tradition most seriously.'[6] That we are able to come close to the Buddha at all, and to derive inspiration and guidance from his personal example as well as from his actual teaching, is largely owing to the fact that we have access to the older portions of the Tipitaka, and we are accordingly grateful to the Theravada for having preserved them. Various selections from the Pali canon illustrative of the Buddha's life as well as of his teaching are available. One of the best of these is Bhikkhu Nanamoli's The Life of the Buddha, which is well known to many of us, as is Dr B.R.

Ambedkar's The ...

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