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Broomhouse Farm 1975 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita

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... 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 sense, but as a being coming as it
were from an even higher sphere and having a teaching which was diametrically opposed to the Jewish
teaching and theism in the ordinary sense. I think this is probably the only possible positive attitude a
Buddhist could adopt. Which doesn't mean to say that everything in the teaching of Jesus as preserved
in the Gospel is acceptable. But that much of it is acceptable and some elements preserved in the
Gnostic tradition, not preserved by the Church. These elements are acceptable.
______: The question arose because of children being taught at school Christianity and trying to relate
it to them in some way, to explain it to them in terms that they're being taught to use.
S: I think one has to be really careful ...
______: ... the word God as ...
S: Not to be trying to even condition children even with good intentions. Supposing that the child just
doesn't like that sort of teaching, well, the child should be able to have that sort of reaction. It may be
quite spontaneous. (Pause) Just a few days ago when I went to see some of my relations I was quite
surprised to find my niece who is only ten speaking very strongly against the Christian instruction she
was being given at school and quite spontaneously without any prompting from anybody. And she said
"I just don't want hear about God and Jesus. I don't believe all that. Why do they have to teach it in
school. I don't like it" she said. And she's only ten. So it seems that children do have these quite
spontaneous reactions so you shouldn't, as it were, try to talk them into say, "Well, teacher says God
but you can take God in another way. There's no need to throw it away altogether". Well, if the child
feels like rejecting it completely let him.
Ratnapani: I imagine you could do quite a lot of harm if you just try to bend the child's conditioning
rather than let it grow up even if it does stay conditioned, until it's able to think a bit more and see if (?)
S: I think it's important to let the child know that there are other points of view. And perhaps even let
the child know, that had he or she been born in say a Muslim country, he'd have been taught something
quite different. Or in a Buddhist country except that a Buddhist wouldn't have taught you in that sort of
dogmatic way, we hope. (Pause)
Ratnapani: Taking the pressure off the conditioning rather than burying it or trying to change it.
S: Yes. You can even say to the child, "Well, this is a Christian country. Fair enough. If they like to tell
you about Christianity, well, why not. It's all part of the history of the country but that doesn't mean
that you've got to accept it. There's no harm in you knowing it because Christianity has played a very
important part in the cultural and political history of Britain and of Europe and of the West generally.
So it's a part of an educated person's general knowledge, which doesn't mean that you've got to believe
everything that you're told but there's certainly no harm in knowing about it. You can just put it like
that. Just reserve your belief until you're older and can understand better. Meanwhile just listen and just
learn. But this, in a general way, is a question which has been made before. In a broader sense
something that Subhuti raised a couple of months ago, that is to say what should the attitude of the
Buddhists and especially the Friends be towards Christianity. I did say I thought I'd have to give a
whole series of lectures to clarify that, whereupon of course he rubbed his hands in glee. [Laughter] I
suppose I shall sooner or later. Maybe when Bethnal Green is ready. But I think that there is room for
clarification and sorting out what is acceptable. What is not acceptable. What does (?) in with
Buddhism. I think we can't adopt a sort of root and branch attitude I think we have to be
There are certain aspects of Christianity, including Christian teaching we just can't accept. On the other
hand there are certain other aspects which do harmonize quite well with our own overall attitude from
a Buddhist point of view. Or at least, could be made to harmonize with just a little gentle
reinterpretation. Like the idea of rebirth. Christ said 'accept you be born again'. But clearly this is not
being born again literally but spiritual rebirth. The conception of spiritual rebirth, a change in the
individual so radical that he becomes a new person, a new human being. That idea is clearly there in
the New Testament. There is no reason why we shouldn't acknowledge that. And also there is the
question of our attitude, not just towards orthodox Christianity which is that form of Christianity which
politically won the battle, as it were and became the ruling and reigning Church. But what is our
attitude towards all the other sects and schools which were subsequently regarded as heretical by the
orthodox church, who at least according to some scholars were more faithful to the spirit of
Christianity as it originally was, and especially what about the Gnostics - there were dozens and dozens
of different schools. Some of them very interesting and quite a bit close to the Buddhist way of looking
at things than that of orthodox Christianity. One hasn't necessarily to take the main orthodox position
as entirely representative of what Christianity might originally have been.
Again of course you mustn't sort of make any sort of hasty generalizations because the whole history
of early Christianity is so complex and so obscure in many ways, and there's so much different of
opinion among scholars.
Ratnapani: I think one very rarely comes across anybody who knows any of them, so when the word
Christianity appears it means the time of the church in the ordinary (?) church the last couple of
thousand years and the bishops and archbishops and popes which we've got around now. And I think
that usually when someone is trying to wheedle a good word for Christianity out of a Buddhist, I mean
that's what they're talking about.
S: Right, yes, yes.
Ratnapani: And then, well, I'd personally be pretty careful. I get overexcited and start perhaps using
unskilful speech and condemning it roundly.
S: That probably is safer and in a way more positive with regard to the kind of Christianity that people
have in mind when they use the word Christian. When your attitude towards (?) cannot but be negative
whether that represents what Christianity could be said to be really like, that's a separate matter.
Ratnapani: I think that usually when that comes up though, 'well, not all this lot but the real
Christianity' they don't know that either. And I think we have to know better than they do what is
known about it - as you've mentioned about the Gnostics and so on. I think people usually don't know
what the real Christianity if there is one is.
Subhuti: I think it's quite a lot of sentimental red herring which can be confusing.
Ratnapani: It's what Christ really said, he did say some nice things didn't he. So that's what Christianity
really is (?) grounds for that.
Chintamani: (?) modern church especially (?) shake their heads, of course, Christianity isn't, we know
it isn't what it should be but it's going to be wonderful (?)
Nagabodhi: I had quite an interesting experience the other day. I was giving a talk to some young art
students on Monday last week and after talking for a while about the higher evolution theme, a couple
of people there, (?) well, that's what Christianity is about. They, as far as I could make out, were in fact
two self-confessed Christian (?). Immediately other people chipped in and said, "Oh, no, it's all about
this, that and the other. In fact the people who considered themselves to be Christians sort of really
picked up on this higher evolution theme. It was quite interesting.
S: Well, they might have read a bit about Teilhard de Chardin. On the other hand they might have just
been picking up on anything that seems attractive or acceptable, and saying, well, this is Christianity
(?) in a not really honest sort of way though maybe in a sense in theory but not with any real
intellectual honesty.
______: We have to be (?) down Buddhism.
S: Right, yes
______: The difficulty with trying to sort of take some of the Christian concepts which are valuable
and use those, you can't really [7] separate them from the rest of what we associate with Christianity.
You're talking in Christian terms, and one immediately associates that with the old idea of Christianity.
S: Did some people see the Archbishop of Canterbury's appeal for moral renewal? How did you feel
about that? (Pause) What did you feel he was really appealing for?
Ratnapani: Economic stability and stable government and industrial well-being ...
______: Patriotism.
Ratnapani: I thought he was just a mouthpiece of the establishment that happened to have a particular
garment on. There was certainly nothing spiritual behind it, no spiritual inspiration. You had to all be
sort of good and boy-scoutish.
S: Don't rock the boat boys.
______: Yes.
S: What did you think of Mervyn Stockwood's little piece in the 'Morning Star'. There was quite a
Ratnapani: I just heard the outrage which followed.
______: What did he do?
S: Well, the ...

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