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Broomhouse Farm 1975 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita

Questions and Answers at Broomhouse Farm - 1975

Please note: the quality of the recording is very poor therefore '(?)' in the text denotes that the words were indecipherable.

Sangharakshita: Anyway let's start our question and answer period. This is just to give those who have any particular topic on their mind an opportunity of asking about it. Well, if there's anything that they want perhaps to have talked about, anything that they have been reflecting on any way, and would welcome some reflections and observations on, either with regard to Dharma in general or meditation practice or the way the movement is going or particular details of doctrines and practice. (Pause) History of Buddhism. As wide as you like. Usually what happens on such occasions is that all the questions you've been thinking about for the last few weeks suddenly just disappear and you dry up and you can't remember them. (Pause)

Voice: Something which I'm not sure about. There are several forms of Prajnaparamita. Which is the one which the mantra in the puja refers to? There are several, I've seen several different ...

S: Ah, yes, the traditional, even the iconography of the Prajnaparamita doesn't seem to have been so, in a sense, well developed as some of the other figures. We mustn't think of any of the figures in a very rigid sort of way. They are all very fluid. Sometimes it's not very clear exactly how many forms there are. But of the Prajnaparamita forms the standard one which in a sense is the one is the golden yellow one. The mantra seems to refer to all the forms but inasmuch as that two armed golden yellow form is the main one, the principal one, well, one could say that the mantra refers particularly to that form. It's the form, in a way not unlike the form of the Earth Goddess. That seems to be a sort of source for the iconography. In other words, it's a female figure rather mature in years. Not a young figure. But not old. A mature figure of golden complexion and somewhat motherly expression in a positive way and with two arms, seated cross-legged and with the mudra of teaching the Dharma, which is the usual one -turning the wheel of the Dharma.

______: Because I have seen different mantras.

S: Which one was that?

______: I can't, I don't remember the mantra but it's in Conze's book on meditation, Buddhist Meditation.

S: That's probably (?)


______: (?)

______: Is it with one lotus or two books or one book?

S: As far as I remember it's usually two lotuses and one book.

______: On which side?

S: I think it's on this side, the left side. Is it like that in the Javanese figure?

______: There are two lotuses and I think two books. Presumably they'd be (?)

______: Is she holding them? (?)

S: As far as I remember they seem to grow down behind the shoulders as though they're sort of springing up from the earth almost, not held. They don't seem to be in the crooks of the (?). I don't remember seeing Prajnaparamita figures on thangkas. They don't seem very popular in Tibet (?) Tara probably swallows up all the female forms. Tara and (?) (Pause) One can take it that as far we are concerned it is this golden yellow coloured figure.

______: (?) correlation between her and the Earth Goddess.(?)

S: Well, it's a sort of iconographic connection in fact.

______: ... iconographic...

S: No I mean in the sense that the Earth Goddess is represented as mature in years, golden coloured, sometimes with brown or green, but usually golden coloured and with a sort of motherly aspect and Prajnaparamita in much the same way. It's as though it's the same kind of thing transposed to a purely spiritual plane. But the iconography, the external form, remains pretty much the same. (Pause)

Atula: What would be the most healthiest attitude to have towards God and Christ to avoid too much conflict (?) festivities (?)

S: I don't think you need to have any particular attitude at all to avoid conflict with the festivities because most of the people who take part in those festivities have got no particular feeling towards God or Christ anyway. Christmas is just Christmas when they get together with their families and have roast beef or turkey or what not and Christmas trees. Most people it seems in this country don't attach any sort of special religious significance to Christmas any more. Very few people go to church over Christmas. They just feel rather vaguely it's a period of goodwill and they spend the period at home 'enjoying themselves', I don't think the question arises so much in connection with Christmas. You mean supposing someone invites you?

Atula: Yes.

S: I don't think there's any difficulty from a Buddhist point of view with the religious aspect where that is present. I think the social aspect which one could say is not even very much in keeping with the Christian significance of the occasion itself. Well, supposing you feel some uneasiness about joining in the so-called Christmas celebrations, it's not [3] a question of feeling uneasy about joining in something religious because that religious element is usually just missing. It's the whole sort of gamut of stuffing yourself with roast turkey and things of that sort which I'm not very happy about which don't seem to have much connection with Christmas anyway. Not Christmas as a purely religious celebration.

Atula: I was thinking in particular of (?) festival ( ?)

S: Well, what were they saying?

Atula: It was (?) attitudes to war (?) I can't remember (?)

S: Well, I think the only sort of way in which difficulty arises if one has got relations who are celebrating Christmas and they want you to be there as part of the general festivities as the family get together but you feel uneasy about that because you're not happy about the whole social side of things, yes? I don't think the question of Christianity really comes into it. It's a particular kind of social life and social set-up that one doesn't feel happy about. So one either has to sort of grin and bear it if you can, or just to explain frankly that you'd rather be included out.

______: I find that for most people it seems the religious aspect is so entirely lacking that I can partake in it quite easily to some extent because it's just a get together as a family, it's just a social occasion really.

S: But there are different levels of even social getting together. I mean which might differ very much from family to family. I mean your's might be comparatively relaxed and you might be permitted to stick to your own diet. But in some families that might not be possible. They will absolutely insist that if you were there you'd have to have some turkey or chicken, and a quite difficult situation therefore develops, unless you've brought your family up properly. (Laughter)

______: Do you think that Christianity was originally a positive way and that it's been misinterpreted or that it has a built-in fault in the religion?

S: I think there are, as it were, built in faults in the teaching especially as regards the thing about God, the supreme being. But on the other hand it does seem to me that it was much more positive than it is now or has been for a long time. I feel that certainly for the first thousand years, on the whole, it was a positive influence in Europe. Up to about a Thousand AD when there was, during the period of the Dark Ages. The usual view, I know, among historians of culture, is that Christianity really bloomed in the early Middle Ages. I personally feel that was when the decline began. I feel that when the Church during the Dark Ages was still fighting to preserve something of civilization and establishing monasteries, little outposts of spiritual life and culture and was struggling with a very sort of crude and barbaric environment, there was a great deal in the Church that was very genuine but once the Church had triumphed and once the papacy started asserting its political power and political supremacy and claiming to control the whole of Europe, politically even, or control the whole world, in theory, and when the papacy and the Church started becoming very, very wealthy and when the Church became a vast bureaucratic body with a finger in every [4] pie, then, even though this financed wonderful art and culture and all that, then the decline really did begin and resistance developed against the Church and the Church attracted very unworthy elements that wanted just to be in on a good thing. So, I feel this is how the rot really set in. So according to my reading of history the Church was a positive influence when Christianity was a relatively positive influence all during the Dark Ages. But when the Church eventually triumphed and virtually took over the state in many parts of Europe, as it had taken over the Roman Empire to some extent, and when the pope started claiming to control kings and princes, then things started to go downhill. That was the real origin of the decline I think.

______: You don't think there were (?) ...

S: No I think from the very beginning Christianity very definitely (?) religion and if you can't accept the ordinary idea of god then you break with one of the most important elements in Christianity. I think, well a Buddhist, the only possible approach to Christianity other than total rejection is the, as it were, Gnostic one. That is to say, the Gnostics rejected God, they say he was just the God of the Old Testament, sort of carried over into Christianity. They rejected God but they didn't reject Christ, thought they didn't regard him as the incarnation of God, in the old ...

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