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Looking Ahead a Little Way

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by Sangharakshita

Tape 194:Looking Ahead a Little Way

Sangharakshita Combined Order Convention 1999 Introduction by Subhuti Well we know very, very well what place Bhante has in our lives, what place he has for us. After all, today, and in fact for the Dharmacharini's for the last ten days, we've been prostrating ourselves in front of him many times, each morning. And we've been putting him above our heads in the afternoons, and we've been welcoming him into our hearts. So in these ways we've represented what Bhante is to us, what Bhante means to us. But now we're not just going to be placing him on the Refuge Tree in front of us or putting him in the sky above us, or even bring him into our hearts. We're going to have him in flesh and blood, here in front of us. And what a pleasure that is for us, to be able to contemplate, to take the darsan of our precious friend, Urgyen Sangharaksita, Bhante Sangharaksita, who means so much to every one of us and on whose vision our own ordinations rest.

Bhante's going to be speaking to us tonight on the theme of `Looking Ahead a Little Way'. Well, I've been looking back - when I heard the title of Bhante's talk I knew I was going to have to find some way of introducing him and I just found myself looking back and I was thinking back to what seemed to me to be the beginning of our Order, what is it which is the point at which our Order really came into being, the point at which it was really germinated so to speak. And what I thought was that that origin is to be found way, way back. And I'm going to read you a passage from Bhante's - I was going to say `Learning to Walk' but of course it's `The Rainbow Road' - in which I think that origin is to be found.

`If when I read `Isis Unveiled' I knew that I was not a Christian, when I read the Diamond Sutra I knew that I was a Buddhist. Though this book epitomises a teaching of such rarefied sublimity that even Arahants, saints who have attained individual nirvana, are said to have become confused and afraid when they hear it for the first time, I at once joyfully embraced it with an unqualified acceptance and assent. For me the Diamond Sutra was not new. I had known it and believed it and realised it ages before and the reading of the Sutra as it were awoke me to the existence of something I'd forgotten. Once I realised that I was a Buddhist it seemed that I'd always been one, that it was the most natural thing in the world to be and that I had never been anything else.' It's that vision of Bhante's which really is the basis for our Order. Bhante saw the nature of the Dharma, he tried to live out that vision, and that led him eventually to the foundation of our Order and to witnessing the commitment of each and every one of us to realising that vision. So our Order has it's origins not, in a sense, in time at all. Yes, I said I was looking back, but what we look back to is a point when Bhante had a glimpse outside time, a point outside time so to speak from which our Order unfolds.

So tonight we're not going to be looking back, we're going to be looking forward, we're going to be seeing a little way into the future and I for one am fascinated to know what it is that Bhante has got to say. I'm fascinated to hear, I want to hear him `Looking Ahead a Little Way'.

Looking Ahead A Little Way Thank you Subhuti.

Dharmacharis and Dharmacharinis: as Subhuti has just indicated, I've been here at Wymondham College, on the Convention, for the last ten or eleven days. I've been on Convention of course with the Dharmacharinis. And I must say it has been for me a very, very happy and very, very exceptionally positive experience those ten days with so many Dharmacharinis. I believe I've had lunch or dinner with some one hundred and fifty six of them, which is one of the advantages of being the founder of a spiritual movement! And I've seen, I am told, a couple of dozen of them also individually. Apart from that I didn't really do very much with them, apart from reading some poems. But I was very aware of them as I was getting on with my own work. I was very aware of them meditating and studying and doing their prostration practice and doing their kalyana mitra yoga. I was very conscious of the positive, serene and happy atmosphere that was being generated. And I think that other Order members, the Dharmacharis, are very fortunate to have been able to come, so to speak, into that prepared atmosphere.

So for the last ten, eleven days I've been, as it were, living in quite another world. The other world, the outside world has seemed rather distant, even a little dream-like. I haven't heard any news, haven't seen a newspaper, haven't listened to the radio, so that other outside world, the world, has seemed rather different, rather distant, rather remote. But of course I do have some recollections of it, I do have some memories of it, I do have some recollection of things which had been going on before I came here and which no doubt are still going on. I have been very aware of certain issues that have been and still are no doubt in people's minds, here in Britain and in other parts of the world. And one of the things that I've been conscious of, one of the things that I've been conscious of for quite a long time, a year, two years, maybe more, is that here in Britain, as elsewhere, people are preparing to celebrate the millenium. You can't escape the millenium, even on this Convention you're not going to escape the millenium! It seems it's quite impossible to escape the millenium.

People in Britain, as elsewhere, are preparing to celebrate the two thousandth anniversary of the alleged birth of Jesus Christ. I say alleged because even those who believe he did actually exist seem now generally to accept that he was born at least four years before the generally accepted date. So I say alleged birth of Jesus Christ. They are preparing, in other words, to enter upon the third millenium of the Christian era. And I think it's important that though we're aware of all this going on I think that we as Buddhists don't allow ourselves to be carried away by all the excitement, by all the hype. I think it's important that we should remember that this millenium is not our millenium.

I'm not of course saying that you shouldn't go to see that famous dome on which so much energy, time, skill and of course money, has been expended, and in any case of course the exhibitions within the dome are or will be in no means entirely Christian. Some Christians have in fact complained quite vociferously that Christianity has not been allocated within the dome sufficient space. It seems they're being squeezed into some little corner of some multi-faith or multi-cultural exhibition and they're not very happy about that and in a way one can understand it. It is after all their millenium. But anyway, that's another matter.

Buddhists of course celebrated a half millenium of their own more than forty years ago. That was in 1956 to 1957, May 1956 to May 1957. They celebrated two thousand five hundred years of Buddhism. And I was of course in India at that time, and I took part in those celebrations, and I remember them very well indeed. I not only took part in them I helped to organise a small part of them. And as I said, I remember them very, very well. It was a highly eventful year, a very colourful and emotional year for all Buddhists.

Christians of course see the birth of Jesus Christ as constituting a turning point in history, and we all know if we read our standard textbooks, at least old ones, history is divided into what happened BC and what happened AD, though non-Christian historians don't always nowadays follow that particular usage. They've suggested that if there is to be any such distinction then it should be thought of in terms of `the Common Era' and `Before the Common Era'. Scholars moreover have suggested that if there is to be a turning point in history it's to be found not in one particular year but in a whole period; it's to be found in the years centering around 500BC. In other words the period from about two hundred to eight hundred years BCE. And this period has been termed, as most of you I think already know, the Axial Age. And according to Karl Jaspers, the German philosopher, in those years the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid, simultaneously and independently, in China, in India, in Persia, in Palestine and in Greece. It was the age of the great Individuals, Individuals with a capital I. It was the age of Confucius and Isiah, of Socrates and Plato, of the Upanishadic sages and of the Greek tragic poets. And of course, most importantly for Buddhists, it was the age of the Buddha.

Buddhists certainly see the appearance of the Buddha on the stage of history as constituting a turning point. But they don't see the appearance, the life, of the Buddha as a turning point in quite the same way as Christians see the appearance of Christ as constituting a turning point. For Christians Christ is absolutely unique. He is the incarnate logos, the incarnate son of God and His sacrificial death on the cross is the central event in the history of the whole world, of all human beings. That history, according to Christian tradition, begins with the creation and ends with the last judgement, when the trumpet sounds in the heavens and the entire human race is summoned before the throne of God to be judged by Christ.

For Buddhists however, the Buddha is not absolutely unique. Shakyamuni, Gautama, is not absolutely unique. He is, we may say, relatively unique, if one can in fact use such an expression.

He is relatively unique in the sense that he is unique within a certain world period, a certain kalpa. According to Buddhist tradition there have been other Buddhas before him and there will be other Buddhas after Him again in future world periods. A Buddha as ...

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