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Vinehall Mitra Event 1 - Questions and Answers 1981

by Sangharakshita

... what about their religious influences?
Presumably, the influences within the Friends to which they are to be exposed. One thing that I'm
very clear about - I'm not clear about some things in connection with this particular topic - one thing
that I've very clear about is that there should be no question of indoctrinating children with
Buddhism. That is not to be the attitude at all. You can't make children into Buddhists. Only
individuals can be Buddhists and children are not yet Individuals, though if they are properly brought
up, properly educated, they've a very good chance of becoming Individuals. So, what do you do
about the children? Well, you don't teach them Buddhism at a tender age, you don't try to ram the
Four Noble Truths down their little throats [Laughter] or you don't get them to commit the Twelve
Nidanas to memory and recite them as soon as they can speak. No, not that.

But a child who is born and who is brought up in a Buddhist community of one kind or another,
either that of the women or that of the men, should be surrounded all the time by a really friendly and
emotionally positive, warm, helpful supportive atmosphere, that is the most important thing. And
gradually introduced to Buddhism in a more specific sense, taken along to festivals, allowed to join
in festivals, allowed to join in the pujas, to make offerings, to join in the chanting, or singing if you
have it - children really love these things. To attend name giving ceremonies, any kind of ceremony,
anything colourful and bright, and of a celebratory nature the child really loves and enjoys joining in.
And eventually of course, the child will ask you questions about the Dharma, about Buddhism, about
those strange people outside who don't seem to be Buddhists [Laughter], and you'll just answer the
questions plainly and sensibly and objectively, and allow the child to make his or her own choice in
due course. But, on no account, in my opinion, should there be any indoctrination of the Christian or
Muslim type.

All right, shifting to somewhat different ground with the last question group.
"Please say something about the centripetal aspects of communities around the same Centre.
How a community housing co-operative fits into the pattern of the new society because this

has aspects of both the co-op and community."

So, centripetal aspects of communities around the same Centre. I think most of you are acquainted
with the difference between a centrifugal force or tendency and a centripetal one. A centrifugal one
goes from the centre outwards and a centripetal one goes from outwards in. So, presumably, the
centripetal aspects of communities are the aspects which cause the community or communities to
draw in upon themselves. Because after all, you're living in a community with other people and, yes,
you're very much occupied with one another, you're very much occupied with your life together, the
way in which you relate, this is necessary, this is positive, this is healthy. But what about the Centre
nearby? The questioner seems to envisage a number of communities sort of surrounding a Centre.
Well, it's up to you, it's up to the community, the members of the community. You may choose to be
involved with the activities of that Centre and contribute members to the running of that Centre and
supporting classes, or you may not, it's up to you. You may decide that at one stage of your
existence, for the sake of the members of the community, community life is more important and
more to be stressed. At another time you might feel that the community is getting a bit too self-
centred, so to speak, and needs to take an active part in the activities of the nearest Centre.

It's as though a balance needs to be maintained but you mustn't become too centripetal otherwise you
sort of forget about the larger movement of which you're a part. You mustn't become too centrifugal
otherwise you cease to have a community life at all. So, be aware of both tendencies and try to hold
them in balance in the long run, even though at a specific period one may predominate, or it may be
desirable that one should predominate. More perhaps than that one can't say.

So what about the community housing co-operative? How does that fit into the pattern? It's not really
a question of fitting into the pattern. It's not that when something new arises or develops it's got to fit
into the old pattern. No, the old pattern's also got to be modified. There's that too. So, enlarge the
old pattern to accommodate the new development. So here, as the questioner rightly says, a housing
co-operative has aspects of both the co-op and the community. So one could treat that as a new
development. Usually we speak in terms of the Centre, the community and the co-op but a housing
co-operative in some ways, partakes of the nature of both. It's like the hero, he's part god and he's
part man. So I don't think there's really a problem here. Let the overall pattern be sufficiently elastic
to accommodate this kind of new development.

All right, so much for those questions, they go on to an allied group. All right, the next two
questions have come from the same person and are prefaced by a bit of explanation or comment.
"Presumably, the greatest danger the spiritual community has to constantly face is that of its
degeneration into a group. In recent years there has been some emphasis on establishing a positive
group in the FWBO. No matter how good and positive the positive group is, it is still a group. I
believe that there will always be only a fine dividing line between a positive group and a negative
one, a positive group can so easily become a negative one."

This is true, insofar as the positive group does not contain within itself a spiritual community,
especially a transcendental community. I have said before that really in the long run there is no
existence of a positive group without a spiritual community at its heart or as its nucleus. So:

"My first question is: What do you consider we need to be constantly on the lookout for to
ensure that the spiritual community does not become a mere group. What are the first signs

that will indicate the rot may be setting in?"

Second question:
"Do you think that some of the more experienced Order Members can ever be in a situation
where they have sufficient influence to manipulate, whether consciously or unconsciously, the
positive group around them for their own ends, i.e. to maintain a certain position on the
hierarchical ladder?" [Laughter]

Hm, right first question first. Yes, we certainly need to be constantly on the lookout to ensure that
the spiritual community does not become a mere group. So what are the first signs that will indicate
that the rot may be setting in? I think this question is really answered when we remember the
definition of the spiritual community. I mean, what is the spiritual community, or how do we
distinguish between the spiritual community on the one hand and the group, even the positive group,
on the other. The spiritual community consists of individuals. So, when you notice that there are
fewer individuals around, or individuals are disappearing. By individuals, of course, you don't mean
individualists. When everybody starts acting collectively, as a mass, and not as a free association of
individuals, well then, you can start thinking that the rot has well and truly set in. So, it's the absence
of individuality.

If you start noticing that people aren't thinking and speaking and acting as individuals, that they are
simply identifying themselves with a group, that they are group members now, not individuals, then,
yes, the rot has set in. One could give all sorts of other indications but they really all boil down to
this. You know, you might for instance, visit a community, you might feel there's a very happy,
positive atmosphere but the people are not acting, they're not functioning as individuals, so that it is
not a spiritual community.

So, second question. "Do you think that some of the more experienced Order Members can ever be
in a situation where they have sufficient influence to manipulate, whether consciously or
unconsciously, the positive group around them for their own ends, i.e. to maintain a certain position
in the hierarchical ladder." I think this question's probably a little unfortunately phrased. (Laughter)
One is presumably envisaging a situation within the positive group outside the FWBO, let's say
outside the FWBO. Supposing an Order Member is a teacher, and he's a good teacher in a really
good school where there's a good positive atmosphere. So what will be his effect? What will be his
influence ...

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