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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<D> 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,
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

S: Also so that they don t use their facts to obliterate your principles. At least try to do

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<D> 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<D> 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

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

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<D> different, and they re incapable of doing that, they re closed, they re

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 ...

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