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The Integration of Buddhism into Western Society

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by Sangharakshita

... cases this was because their present job was not
very ethical. And Buddhism, as I am sure most of you know, attaches great importance to what it
calls right means of livelihood. Right means of livelihood is the fifth step of the Buddha’s noble
eightfold path. Thus there came into existence the first of what come to be called the FWBO's
team-based right-livelihood business. They were team-based because they consisted of a number
of Buddhists working together. They worked together along broadly co-operative lines. And they
were right livelihood businesses, because they operated in accordance with Buddhist ethical
principles. But there was another factor in their genesis. In 1975 the FWBO embarked on the
creation of Sukhavati in east London. At present Sukhavati in the second largest of the FWBO's
urban centres, and for the creation of Sukhavati huge sums of money were needed. Instead of
appealing for help to wealthy Buddhists in the east, the FWBO raised the money itself. And it
raised that money partly by setting up team-based right-livelihood businesses which donated
their profits to Sukhavati.

As such right livelihood businesses thus came to do four things: First of all they provided those
working in them with material support, they provided them with a livelihood. And secondly they
enabled Buddhists to work with one another. Thirdly they conducted themselves in accordance
with Buddhists ethical principles, and they gave financial support to Buddhist and humanitarian
activities. Over the years, the FWBO has set up a number of team-based right-livelihood
businesses. Some of which have done extremely well. One particular FWBO right-livelihood
business employs more that 60 people and it has an annual turnover of about two million pounds

I should like to add something at this point, and this is to do with Hakuin. As far as I can see
hakuin is a Buddhist right-likelihood team-based business and I should like to express my
personal appreciation of the fact that the members of hakuin have been providing the speakers
with suppers and lunches. I congratulate them on having a team-based right-likelihood business
right here in the heart of Berlin. And I express my personal appreciation for their dana, which
was really excellent.

We can now begin to see what the integration of Buddhism into western society actually
involves. There is what we may term psychological integration, consisting in the raising of the
level of consciousness of at least some of the people who make up that society, that western
society. The level of consciousness is raised by meditation, by working directly on the mind
itself, as well as is raised by various indirect methods: hatha yoga, tai-chi chuan, and others I
have not had time to mention. I should perhaps though mention flower arrangement, because I
was one who enjoyed the very beautiful and meditative flower arrange which we were able to
witness on the first evening of this convention. Moreover since the level of consciousness is
affected by the conditions under which we live, we have to change those conditions, we have to
change western society. And in order to change western society, we shall have to create western
Buddhist institutions. We shall have to create for example, residential communities and team-
based right-livelihood businesses. We shall also have to integrate Buddhism into western society
intellectually, by introducing the fundamental ideas, the fundamental concepts of Buddhism, into
western intellectual discourse. Unless we do these things, there can be no question of any
integration of Buddhism into western Buddhism society. And all talk of such integration will be
so much hot air.

Lecture DE02: The Integration of Buddhism into Western Society

Page 3

But there is one kind of integration of which I have not spoken, even though it is the most
important of all, the most important of all in the sense that other kinds of integration of
Buddhism into western society cannot exist without it. The most important integration of all is
the integration of the individual. That is of the individual Buddhist into western society. It is after
all the individual Buddhist who meditates. Meditation it not just an abstract, it is people who
meditate, individuals who meditate, in the same way it is the individual Buddhist who goes on
retreat, who lives in a spiritual community or works in a right likelihood business or who
communicates the fundamental ideas of Buddhism. So without the individual Buddhist, there can
be no integration of Buddhism into western society.

But --- but what is a Buddhist? Well, first of all let me say what a Buddhist is not. A Buddhist is
not someone who has merely been born into a Buddhist family in a Buddhist country. Nor is a
Buddhist someone who has merely made an academic study of Buddhism and who knows all
about its history and doctrines. Similarly a Buddhist is not someone who merely dabbles in
Buddhism. Who has a smattering of knowledge about it, who airs purely subjective views about
the subject, or who mixes Buddhism up with Christianity, or mixes it up with vedanta, or with
new-ageism, as we may call it, or what not.

So, what then is a Buddhist? A Buddhist is someone who goes for refuge. A Buddhist is someone
who goes for refuge to the Buddha, who goes for refuge to the dharma, and to the sangha, and
who as an expression of that going for refuge, seeks to observe the ethical precepts of Buddhism.
Going for refuge to the Buddha means accepting the Buddha and no other as ones ultimate
spiritual guide and exemplar. Going for refuge to the dharma means doing ones utmost to
understand, to practise and to realise the fundamental import of the Buddha’s teaching. Going for
refuge to the sangha means looking for inspiration and looking for guidance to those followers of
the Buddha, both past and present, who are spiritually more advanced than one self. The ethical
precepts that one observes as an expression and as a reinforcement of that three-fold going for
refuge are the precept of reverence for live, the precept of generosity, giving, the precept of
content, and the precept of truthful, gracious, helpful and harmonious speech, and so on. The
word refuge, which is the literal translation of the original indic term, is liable to be
misunderstood. It does not have connotations of running away, it does not have connotations of
seeking escape from the harsh realities of live, through losing oneself in pseudo-spiritual
fantasies. Rather does it represent, one, the wholehearted recognition of the fact that permanence,
identity, unalloyed bliss, and pure beauty are not to be found anywhere in mundane existence,
but found only in the transcendental nirvanic realm. And secondly it consists in the wholehearted
resolve to make the great transition from the one to the other, from the mundane to the
transcendental. Such is the Buddhist. Such is the individual, without whom, there can be no
integration of Buddhism into western society.

But --- another but --- the individual, the individual Buddhist, does not go for refuge to the
Buddha, the dharma and the sangha alone or in isolation. He or she goes for refuge in the
company of other individuals who also go for refuge. Thus he or she is a member of the sangha
or spiritual community, in the wider sense. And it is this sangha, this sangha in the wider sense,
not so much the individual Buddhist alone or in isolation, that raises the level of consciousness
of people living in western society, that changes that society by creating western Buddhist
institutions and that introduces the fundamental ideas of Buddhism into western intellectual
discourse. It is this wider spiritual community that effects the psychological, social, and
economic integration of Buddhism into western society.

Lecture DE02: The Integration of Buddhism into Western Society

Page 4


((translated back from the German from here ...) This brings me to a very important aspect of the
integration of Buddhism into western society.(... to here)) It also brings me very nearly to the end
of my talk. By the time that I started the FWBO, a Buddhism movement had been in existence in
Britain for about 50 years. It was a very small movement. And one of the reasons for its
smallness was that it was to a great extent controlled by people who, though sympathetic to
Buddhism, were not actually Buddhist, and who therefore could not bring to the work of making
known the dharma, the energy and conviction of Buddhists. ...

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