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The FWBO and Outside Groups - Order Weekend Discussions 1979

by Sangharakshita




... the Dharma, the Western Buddhist Order outside of the Friends.

Bhante. [Laughter]

Sangharakshita: No, you re not going to get out of it as easily as that! [Laughter] I don t have anything to say. [Laughter] In the sense that I don t have any sort of in a sense, preconceived idea at this stage as to what sort of image people should present or how they should present it. You may recollect that this arose out of some of the things that I was talking about yesterday -arose out of the question of why it was that people had found the series of talks interesting and why they thought people outside the Order, especially new people, had found them interesting. And then I went on to speak about people that I d been talking to recently, people who d come to see me, and whom I had found experienced quite a bit of difficulty in understanding what the FWBO was really all about, and how it differed from existing Buddhist movements, and I also stressed the point I think that very few Order members were in fact equipped to deal with the questions of people outside, especially when they had some connection with or knowledge of Buddhism already. So that s the background against which we are pursuing the discussion. So I thought it might be a good idea to start off by inviting those people who have experience of trying to present the FWBO and the WBO outside the movement, whether to people who regard themselves as Buddhist or to others, I thought it would be a good idea if such people were invited to give us some account of their experiences in this respect first. I might make some comments after that and then we might - we may be attempting this prematurely - but we might be able to arrive at a few pointers as to what sort of images, so to speak we want or would like to present and how that could best be done. So perhaps some of those who have had experience, say giving talks and answering questions, outside the movement, trying to present the Dharma from our point for view, trying to present the FWBO and the WBO would like to give us the benefit of their experiences and their reflections on those experiences afterwards.

Abhaya: Perhaps I’ll just kick off. An account of something that happened to me about a year ago. I went to visit my eldest brother who is in the Foreign Office working in a very high position at a commercial level, in Africa at the moment and formerly he was in the States. He’s been around the world and had a lot of experience at administrative levels, especially in the economic field, and we got to discussing - he knows of course that I am a Buddhist - and I found myself trying to put forward the fact that Buddhism, Buddhist economics is in fact morally based. It is ethically based rather than greed based, and I think my point of departure was quite true. I was on very firm ground, but I discovered in the course of the discussion that his knowledge of world economics and the total economic situation and his ability to talk in this way was far superior to mine, so I felt at a real disadvantage in trying to put across our point of view, and I felt that by putting across our point of view it suffered in a way. I couldn’t do it justice simply because I wasn’t familiar enough with this kind of language and the way one puts it across. So I felt afterwards that if I’m going to be able to put across our point of view really well, then I’m going to have to know a bit more about how economics works and a bit more about the world situation, so that you can answer in the other person’s language a bit more.

S: Also so that they don’t use their facts to obliterate your principles. At least try to do that.

Abhaya: It’s a very frustrating feeling.

S: This underlines one of the things which I stressed yesterday, that we need when we go to talk with or to people outside, we need to be pretty well informed, not only about the Dharma itself, but about that particular area to which we are seeking to apply the Dharma. Any other experiences?

Dharmapala: Along that line some people that I talk to when I ve been hitch-hiking have been quite deeply immersed in economics and have been quite interested in our practical experiences in the co-operatives, but we re on such a small scale that it s sort of like the things that they were pressing me for was how do we see this developing to a scale which they could actually relate to. That was where people were pressing me most and I hadn t been able to answer that.

S: Well is there an answer? Has anybody formulated an answer to this sort of question?

Asvajit: In a general way, one can say that however large the Friends gets the basic principles will still apply - of the attitude of generosity which is the ethical attitude.

Sagaramati: I think this is a question of establishing some ground, because I remember giving a talk at Bradford University and there were a lot of Marxists there, and I could tell that their values and how they evaluated things was very different from me. They saw things in terms of the haves and have-nots. So I tried to explain what I thought were their values in Buddhist terms and say well from the Buddhist point of view that is of no value to me, we can’t see things in terms of haves and have-nots. There are people and people are ignorant, they’re greedy regardless of whether they’re a have or have-not, basically they’re the same people, and that’s the people we try to deal with.

S: I think that’s a very good point. The haves and the have-nots are not in fact two different kinds of people. They re the same kind of people obviously but some are less successful and others are more successful in attaining the same objectives in almost all cases.

Any more experiences? Are many people in fact going and talking to outside groups of one kind or another? Are we in fact doing enough of this sort of thing?

Devamitra: I’ve done quite a bit in Norwich but I don’t know to what extent I’ve achieved much success. In particular to go into another area, for instance I don’t know how long ago it was, about two years ago or eighteen months ago, I gave a talk to the young clergy of Norfolk and what I said was very well received on the whole. There were one or two people who were a bit stand-offish and a bit snooty, but after talking to them on a one to one basis I definitely struck a chord of sympathy with at least two people out of a group of eleven, but it was the wrong chord of sympathy really because what I’d said I don’t think was going to really make them question their own standpoint. They liked me and they thought that what I said was quite inspired but they couldn’t see that it was stemming from a different source of values, and I tried to get that across to them but either they were unwilling to see it or unable to see it. I wasn’t really able to articulate it for them.

S: So could you go into that a little more? What was it more specifically that they were unwilling to see or to recognise or acknowledge in a general way?

Devamitra: That there was any essential distinction between the teaching of Christ and Buddhism.

S: Well that s really quite extraordinary for clergy, isn’t it? It’s not the orthodox point of view clearly, so why do you think that they weren’t willing to acknowledge that there might be a really radical difference between you?

Devamitra: They would have either had to reject me and what I was saying or reject Christ.

S: But why don’t people do that? The Christian church in the past has had no hesitation whatever about rejecting people as being totally wrong and outside the pail, why are people not so willing to do that nowadays? Is it on account of genuine tolerance or is it....

Devamitra: Well, isn’t this pseudo-liberalism creeping into that area?

S: Ah! Do you think so?

Devamitra: Possibly.

Sagaramati: I think they feel insecure in a lot of things.

Asvajit: Yes, because it means that if there is something very different then if they acknowledge that they have to be open to it, they have to open themselves in order to see what is different, and they re incapable of doing that, they’re closed, they’re blocked.

S: I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about this question of why quite a lot of people seem to want everything to be the same, and do not want to acknowledge clash and difference, and then choose themselves which side they are on. I’ve experienced this sort of general umbrella or portmanteau type approach at ‘The Festival of Body, Mind and Spirit. One of the sort of conclusions I’ve come to is this. Try to approach it by way of an analogy. Supposing one is in a family type situation. Supposing you re a small child. You have a mother and you have a father, so that family situation is ideally for you a situation of security, which means also a situation of harmony. But suppose while you are dependant, perhaps equally, on mother and on father, a difference arises between mother and father. When that happens how does the child feel? Can anybody tell us?

Asvajit: Anxious.

__________: Insecure.

__________: Confused.

S: Anxious, insecure, yes, confused, threatened. Anything else.

__________: Split.

S: Split, yes. So why does the child feel like ...

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