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A System of Spiritual Development

by Ratnaprabha

A System of Spiritual Development
by Ratnaprabha

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/talks/details?num=OM565

Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, March 2002

Back in 1976, when I was doing my final examinations down at University in Brighton, I
went along to a meditation class that Vessantara taught. And that was my introduction to
Buddhism. That was my introduction to the FWBO. And I think it would be fair to say
that I immediately went for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha... a little bit. I did
a little bit. And at first, I think for me Vessantara really was the Sangha, and the
meditation practices he taught were the Dharma, though I did quickly start listening to
Bhante's tapes. But despite this, it did take me a little while before I called myself a
Buddhist, or at least admitted that to other people.

Now, I don't know how common this is, but here I suppose the situation is probably
different, because everybody here has asked for ordination or is already ordained. So
would it be very foolish of me to assume that everybody here is a Buddhist? Maybe not. I
won't ask everybody individually, but maybe that is fair enough. And what I mean by that
is, I've got a strong feeling that all of us here do have the Buddha as their ultimate
teacher. That's one way you could put it, at least. And more than that, more than just
regarding the Buddha ultimately as our teacher, there's also some great feeling, I'd say,
for most of us – maybe for all of us – for the Buddha, for the awakened human being. In
other words, we go for refuge to the Buddha – this is something that Padmavajra was
talking about this morning.

But what about the Dharma and the Sangha? In his opening talk – last night, actually, not
this morning's talk, but the talk last night – Padmavajra said 'we are all serious about the
Dharma,' and again I think you can take that for granted. We are all serious about the
Dharma. And you all want to join the Western Buddhist Order, which is a Sangha, so I
guess you are all serious about the Sangha as well.

But what I want to do here is to ask a question, which is: Taking for granted this basic
'going for refuge' – taking for granted the Buddha refuge being present – what can we do
to take our going for refuge to the Dharma and to the Sangha further?

And of course I'm going to be particularly talking about the Dharma – how we can take
our going for refuge to the Dharma further by using a system of spiritual discipline, or by
continuing with the system of spiritual discipline we've already embarked upon.

Already the Dharma jewel is a refuge for us. We are allowing our understanding of it and
our practice of it to genuinely influence our lives, and we've also, to some extent, got the
Sangha jewel as well – we've got a network of friendships and connections based on
mutual respect that constitutes a genuine Sangha. But how can we take these further?
How can we take the Dharma refuge further? How can we take the Sangha refuge
further?

So talking about the Dharma refuge is what I'll be doing. Saddhaloka will be talking,
perhaps, about the Sangha refuge. And particularly I want to look at how you can
understand developing a well-rounded, day-by-day system of practice. Some of this will
be very old to you, you'll know it very well, but nevertheless I'd like to go into it a bit.
And maybe even go further than that: why do you need a 'system' of practice at all? What
are you looking for in a system of practice? What is special about the system of practice
in the FWBO, and in the Order? And what IS the system of practice in the WBO? That's
what I'll spend most of my time on: looking at what the system of practice actually is.

But I want to start a long way away from any WBO centre, any Order members, any
FWBO people, because I was trying to think of, 'what is a system of spiritual discipline?
What is the picture of it for me?'

And I thought, well, it's a structure, isn't it? It's a structure. And so I'll approach it by
taking you on a sort of ascent, up a real, solid Buddhist structure made of stone, and this
structure I'm thinking of is the great Buddhist mandala stupa of Borobudur, which is why
I've got this book here. Ideally it would be nice to have slides or something to show you
what Borobudur looks like, but I can't do that, and you may not be able to see this very
well, but never mind – I'll put it back in the library and you can have a good look, but at
least it gives you a little bit of a visual impression of some of the things I'm talking about
at Borobudur.

Borobudur is in Java, in the East, and until a few years back I'd never been to the East –
in fact I didn't even have any inclination to go to the East, shocking as that may seem for
a Buddhist. When we had our little tea party this morning for people new to the
ordination process, I noticed that most of the people present – it was very interesting –
most of them had been to India, and they'd been to India before they made a commitment
to Buddhism, and it obviously had – India and Nepal and other places – it had obviously
had a very profound impact, that journey to the East; a broadening of horizons, a
broadening of experiences.

But I never wanted to go... it wasn't that I positively DIDN'T want to go, I just sort of
wasn't interested, I suppose – except for one thing, and that was this longing that I had to
see Borobudur.

And I had a chance when I was giving some lectures in Singapore in 1995. They very
kindly paid my fare, because Singapore is not so far from Java, and down we went to
Borobudur.

I'm not going to go into great detail about it – I haven't got time – but I just remember
very clearly climbing up the gentle hill towards this vast monument. The monument itself
is like a hill encased in stone, it's so huge. And just seeing it like this in the early
morning, silhouetted, with all the little spires and so on, tier upon tier, like a pyramid, but
also like a mandala, and also like a stupa, somewhere between all of those... it was
humid, it was the rainy season there, there were little showers coming down, very hot,
butterflies everywhere... I can remember the volcanoes on the horizon... a really exotic
place for someone who had never been to the East at all. An amazing place.

And I started to walk around it, and I was very fortunate because in the place I was
staying I could go there very early in the morning, like five in the morning before the
tourists arrived, which meant I could have the place to myself, so I was able to regard it –
unlike the rest of the tourists – as a sort of devotional object.

So I walked around it in the traditional way round a stupa – but with this one you can
walk around it and you can also go up it, so you can do a sort of spiral. So that's what I
did: I walked around the base and then I gradually moved up.

The base is a bit like cliffs, actually, most of it – quite high – but in part of it you can see
there's a frieze that is revealed, that is actually hidden behind the stones of the cliff, most
of it. And on the base, the friezes around there, they were exposed about a hundred years
ago and were photographed and then were re-covered over.

And what they show, these friezes, is basically all human life. Illustrations of actions,
their consequences, skilful and unskilful. Every impulse that you might have is depicted
there in these beautiful carvings – really superb – full of life, every one of them full of
human figures, every one different, beautifully executed.

Now then, from there, a walk starts, and this walk is a one and a half mile walk – it's one
and a half miles to go all the way round each level until you've reached the very top. And
all the way along, apart from near the top, you've got, in some cases, four rows of friezes,
as if you're walking past these sort of cartoon strips in stone – but FOUR of them, for one
and a half miles – so you can see what a lot of friezes there are. And each time you climb
up to another level, you move through the mouth of a monster, which is the gate that
takes you up a staircase to the next level – I think maybe that’s.... [inaudible]...

Just to give you some idea of going up the staircases: there are four levels of galleries,
and you can't even see what they're like at the top. And then as you move up through the
other galleries further up, where you're going through a corridor – they're very high, you
can't see the sky – all you can see just immediately above you is the sky – so you're going
through a corridor, you can't see out over the plains, and on both sides you have these
detailed depictions of the lives of the Buddha, the previous lives of the Buddha, the last
life of the Buddha, from the Lalitavistara, the lives of the Buddha's disciples from the
Avadanas and so on – so all these lives of great Buddhist teachers, in particular the
Buddha himself and his previous lives.

And also in this section further up you'll see a long series of Suddhana's quest, which you ...

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