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Transcribing the oral tradition...

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Cumbria Ordination Retreat 1977 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita




Somewhere in Cumbria


Those Present:
Not noted at the time of the session, but including:
The Venerable Sangharakshita, Ajita, Dharmapala, Dhammarati, Asvajit,
Subhuti, Dipankara
Transcriber's note: At times a number of the participants who are on this seminar speak very
quietly and were not able to be deciphered. These gaps are indicated by open and closed brackets in
this transcript [( )].]

Sangharakshita: We are going to have in the course of this weekend, in fact in the course of today,
two question and answer cum discussion periods. So what I thought was we would divide them in
this way; in the first of these periods, that is to say this period, we will deal with topics arising more
or less directly out of the whole question of Ordination. This will be especially appropriate in as
much as this is in fact a specially called ordination retreat and it may be a good opportunity, in fact it
will be a good opportunity, to throw a little light on these matters, not only for the benefit of those
who are being Ordained but for the benefit of everybody because sooner or later we hope everybody
will start thinking, or thinking of thinking quite seriously in these sort of terms. And even if you
aren't as yet, it will be interesting to know at least in what terms others are thinking, others who are
taking this step of Ordination. Also I want to say one or two things myself in connection with
something which obviously is involved with ordination; that is the precepts. We can come to that a
little bit later.

Then this afternoon the second such period we can throw the discussion open to much more general
topics to include things like meditation, aspects of Buddhist doctrine, aspects of the functioning of
the Movement itself and so on. But this morning let us try to keep it more or less to issues revolving
around the central topic of ordination which suggests commitment and so on. So who would like to
set the ball rolling? Anybody can set it rolling, it doesn't have to be one of those who are going to be

: Well I've got a question. It seems to me probably the biggest sort of difficulty is getting round the
idea or getting some sort of idea of or faith in the ideal of Enlightenment. And it seems like, well I
feel that I'm committing myself in the hope that this faith in Enlightenment will sort of arise as a
consequence. I don't feel as if I can see that such a thing as Enlightenment is possible, even though
there is the historical precedent of the Buddha and that in a way I feel like I'm doing it after a lot of
consideration but still in a way I'm sort of blind, I'm trying to grasp the concept, if it is a concept, that
I suppose I could grasp.

S: Though again one could say that if one could grasp the concept, well you probably wouldn't be
grasping the right thing. If you can't grasp the concept of Enlightenment in a way that's good. I think

it would be almost suspicious if you felt that you could grasp it and that you in fact knew exactly
what it was that you were aiming at and exactly how you were going to get there.

There's a saying of Cromwell's which I've quoted once or twice but I will quote it again to the effect
that A man never flies so high as when he doesn't know where he is going. It's as though one has got
to trust the sort of innate tendency, the deepest and truest tendency of one's own being. It is as though
one sees, as it were, at work within oneself a process, the end of which or the culmination of which
one can imagine as it were in a dim and distant sort of way and which one calls Enlightenment. But
the position seems to be rather that you feel within yourself something happening, something
growing, something developing, and then you extrapolate this - well supposing this was to grow
more and more, supposing this process was to continue, supposing it was to arrive at a successful
conclusion, well that would be Enlightenment. It is more like that rather than that one has an abstract
idea of Enlightenment and is convinced about it and is working towards that. It may be like that for
some people but I think that if it is in those cases one has to be a little careful that they're not just too
confident or too slick, as it were, about it.

Do you see what I'm getting at? It can't be very clear, by the very nature of the process and what we
can only think of as the goal of the process. You are giving form, you are giving definition, you are
giving a more accurate sense of direction to some sort of general sense within yourself.

Maybe one should think of oneself as being more like a sort of plant, or not even a plant, a seed. You
are deeply buried underneath the earth. Maybe there's several feet of earth on top of you, but as you
are sort of nestling down there, not exactly rotting away but you are just sort of down there buried
and you feel somehow coming from above and penetrating through the earth a sort of warmth and
you just start stirring, you germinate. And you can't see the sun, maybe you've no idea what is the
sun - I mean how could you form an idea of the sun - but you just respond to that warmth and you
germinate and you start sprouting upwards in that direction. This is the sort of thing that happens.
You follow the direction of the warmth as it were but you don't know anything about the sun. When
your little shoot emerges above the soil, well even then you won't know anything about the sun but
you will feel a little bit and you will start expanding and opening and in that way the whole process
continues until you stand in the open sunlight as a fully opened flower. Maybe that corresponds to
what we call Enlightenment. I could continue the metaphor indefinitely but you see the sort of thing I
am getting at. It's not that you have a clear picture of what Enlightenment is and then you sort of
quite confidently go towards that and you reach and realise it. It isn't so clear cut as that.

If one has this sensation, as it were, of the warmth coming from above or the light coming from
above and if one is simply following that, even though one doesn't know anything about the source
of that light or is not able to define it or describe it, that,s quite enough. One is faithful as it were,
true, as it were, to that warmth and to that light. And one is following it and trying to reach the source
from which it comes, even though you can't see that source or even though thinking of it as a source
even is just a way of thinking, but we can't think of it in any other way if we are to think at all.

But going toward Enlightenment and reaching and arriving there and travelling in that direction is
certainly not having a clear picture say of a place like Glasgow which you might never have seen
before and you know the road and you know that you are going to go along the road in a certain way
and get to Glasgow. That is the sort of analogy we often use but it isn't really very much like that at

__________: There's a difficulty when people say, if say I've got some doubt about what I'm doing

and they might say "well as long as it conduces towards Enlightenment" and in a sense it's unreal,
there's just nothing to go on.

S: Well you won't know whether it conduces towards Enlightenment in the absolute sense until
you're there, and then you will look back and you will see your whole meandering path. 'Oh yes,
when I did that I went away, and when I did that I came back.' You will know that then, but at present
one can only try to assess one's development over a much shorter period and that is quite difficult.

Sometimes you may not know at the end of a year whether you have made progress or not. You only
know that you have been working quite hard and doing your best, but whether it results in any
overall absolute progress in terms of approximation to the goal you may not be able to say at all, not
with any certainty.

Bernie Tisch(?): Something I have been wondering Bhante is, you at the moment doing the
ordinations, the Initiations, you are not going to last forever then what?

S: Then what? Well obviously somebody else will have to do it whether collectively or singularly.
But this is not unthought of and not unprovided for. If Buddhism could survive the Buddha's death it
can survive anybody's death. (Laughter)

Ajita: The feeling I get when I was going for Ordination
was that it hadn't got anything to do with my intellect at
all. As though my heart was set on opening up to waves and flows
and it seemed like the only thing to do. There didn't seem too
much of a choice involved really although I did ask for ordination.

S: Well you could even say that if you really do ask ...

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