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First Order Convention 1974

by Sangharakshita

SANGHARAKSHITA IN SEMINAR
THE FIRST CONVENTION OF THE WESTERN BUDDHIST ORDER 1974Held at: Aryatara
Those Present: (only those who speak, in order of 'appearance', have been noted here as no list of
names was available)
The Venerable Sangharakshita, Chanda, Mangala, Kamalasila, Chintamani, Ananda, Vajrabodhi,
Devaraja, Vangisa, Mamaki, Nagabodhi, Vajradaka, Dharmapala, Hridaya, Ratnapani, Marichi,
Manjuvajra, Devamitra, Subhuti, Padmaraja, Suvratta, Asvajit.
NB: Many contributions, by women speakers especially, are not picked up clearly by the microphone
and are indicated by ... or (?)
When the terms '(Chat)' or '(Talk)' are used in what follows it means that anything said was only small
talk between a few participants and not of any general interest - anyone wishing to listen to this parts
should refer to the tapes. Apart from this what follows is completely unedited.
[2]
Session 1Sangharakshita: All right, this is our first Convention of the Order, and I expect you have all seen the
Summary or Programme which appeared in the Order news-sheet. Anybody not seen that? All right, I'll
just give you an idea of what was in it.
In the course of this Convention, we are going to have four plenary sessions, which means simply all
of us sitting together and discussing certain things, and there are four topics for discussion, one for
each session. This morning, in this session, we are going to talk about 'The Spiritual Development of
the Individual Order Member'. In the afternoon we are going to talk about 'Communication within the
Order', i.e. among or between Order members. Tomorrow morning we are going to be talking about
'The Order and the World', and in the afternoon 'The Functioning of the Order' - a few practical
matters.
But this morning it is 'The spiritual development of the individual Order member', and this as it were
serves to remind us that this is in fact what the whole Movement, the Order, the FWBO, is all about. It
is basically concerned with the development of the individual: that comes first. That is the foundation
of everything. So it is to this that we are going to devote our attention this morning, by way of
reminding ourselves what it really is that we are concerned with, what comes first, what is the absolute
bedrock upon which everything else has to be built.
Now how I want to approach it is this. I want first of all to raise the question of how people feel they
have been getting on: whether people do feel that they have been making some progress since their
Ordinations; whether they feel at least that changes have taken place; whether anybody has got
anything that
they particularly want to say on this particular point, on this particular topic; whether there is any
particular difficulty in their evolution, in their development, that they have encountered; whether there
is any particular experience that they would like to share; whether there is anything they are not sure
about; whether it constitutes progress or doesn't constitute progress; whether there is anything they
have noticed in connection with this particular matter in the Order as a whole, or even individuals
within the Order; and also whether there is anything that could be done on an Order basis to help
individual members continue with their own spiritual development, and in this connection I myself will
have a few words to say about the study retreats, for instance, that we have already started having.
So this is the sort of area within which the discussion or comments will fall this morning. So if
anybody feels that they would like to say anything or ask anything around this topic of the spiritual
development of the individual, then now is their opportunity. Even if anyone feels they haven't been
developing and are wondering why, others might be able to tell them; who knows?
Chanda: Bhante, is it right to say that a man can be an individualist? Being quite honest with you, I
don't meditate, and yet I feel tremendous growth, because I know that I am a man of action, I always
have had to act; that's the reason why. But I've tried and I find it very difficult to meditate. It seems to
be a kind of tremendous block that I cannot seem to shift. But I can act, and get great zeal from doing
it, but to sit down and meditate is - well it's a purgatory at the moment! I just cannot beat it. That's why
I say, can anybody be a Buddha and divorce himself from the technique of training and also get there?
[3]
S: Ah. There are several points here. You asked about meditation; you also asked about the technique.
What is important is the state of mind - whether you get into that state of mind through actual formal
sitting or whether you get into it in some other way. One doesn't want to say that every individual has
to follow the same pattern. I won't even go so far as to say that meditation is equally important in
everybody's spiritual life. It isn't. It does seem that some people do manage to develop the right
positive spiritual states of mind without devoting all that amount of time to formal meditation. They
seem to get it, well they do get it, in other ways. At the same time, though, you have referred to a
blockage. Now whether you meant that to be taken literally or not I don't know, but if there is a real
blockage and you can't meditate - or anyone can't meditate - because of a blockage, obviously the
blockage is to be tackled, whether one after that meditates or not.
Chanda: Well, furthermore I have felt in the last six months tremendous growth.
S: Hm, right.
Chanda: I have a technique: when I go to my bed of a night-time, I am already more or less in a state of
semi-meditation for about two or three hours. But I wouldn't term that meditation. But to sit in a group
and meditate, I'm all fidgety ...
S: The main thing is the state of mind you get into, and if you are sure within yourself that you are
experiencing growth, well, fine. There's no problem. Therefore don't let anybody talk to you and say
that you aren't actually sitting, therefore you can't be developing. That wouldn't be so at all. And I think
it's pretty obvious that some growth has been going on, with or without the meditation. But we have
really to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. The sitting is not essential; the meditation
is. You may be the sort of person who can get into the right state of mind more through action than
through non-action, so, if you can, that is the way for you.
Chanda: Thank you, Bhante.
S: I don't know whether anyone else has got any sort of feelings on this? A lot of people we know do
definitely progress, perhaps even more through meditation than anything else, but at the same time we
do have to be open to the possibility that for some people, at least, that isn't necessarily the way.
But anybody else got anything, any comment at all, like Chanda's?
___: I would like to say something about what Chanda said, that he said when he was alone in his room
he was in a meditative state, and other people think to meditate you have to do it in a group and you
have to ... to do it in a group. Some people seem to meditate better alone, when they are not confined
to a particular time and are not worried about disturbing other people. If you ask them ...
Mangala: I think there might be a lot of - I know in my own case I was a compulsive sitter, like you
feel guilty if you don't. That is something I'm just beginning to come to terms with, I think; I see sitting
as something which I feel I want to do sort of deep down which I need, rather than something which I
compulsively do because I feel I should, you know?
S: Of course, there is the danger of the other extreme. We all know about that; maybe I need not insist
on it. It means one [4] just has to be very honest with oneself and really clear-sighted with regard to
oneself. I knew a French nun once who insisted she could meditate much better when she was walking
briskly along the road. I was a bit doubtful about that in her case, but I am sure in some cases that is a
possibility.
___: You find when you talk to people about meditation that they say, 'Oh, I meditate anyway on the
bus or when I'm doing my household chores.' It's very difficult to find anywhere to go from that,
people say that. What sort of answer would you give?
S: Well, you can only observe them over a period and see whether there is in fact any overall growth. If
there isn't, if they still seem to be just as distracted and just as restless and just as unhappy as before,
you can point that out and say, 'It seems to me you can't really be meditating.' Say, 'I don't deny that
you may be able to do it in that sort of way, but are you actually doing it in that sort of way? To me it
doesn't seem so.'
Kamalasila: What would be your yardstick for measuring growth?
S: You mean as regards meditation, or in general?
Kamalasila: In general. Both for yourself and in other people.
S: Well, first of all there would be increased awareness. You more quickly recover yourself after you
have become unaware. In the earlier days you might remain unaware for weeks or months on end, but
with some practice you come to yourself much more quickly, maybe after just an hour or two, or even
half an hour, you realize, 'Oh, I was rather unmindful and I wasn't very aware.' But as you really do
grow and develop, the awareness becomes constant. You never lose it. And when you never lose it,
then growth is continuous, even though ...

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