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First Order Convention 1974

by Sangharakshita

SANGHARAKSHITA IN SEMINAR

THE FIRST CONVENTION OF THE WESTERN BUDDHIST ORDER: 1974
Held 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 1

Sangharakshita: 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, ...

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