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Combined Order Convention 1985 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita



Gunavajra: Fellow Order members, Bhante. The question and answer sessions with Bhante
are now quite familiar, the formula is long established and the framework is tried and tested.
And yet there is an air of anticipation, a kind of mild excitement before each one of these
sessions. Whether the questions are submitted in advance, or whether Bhante is expected to
answer off the cuff, so to speak, the only thing that these sessions really have in common is
that at the end of them we walk away, somehow a little bit more knowledgeable, and that
after all, is the purpose of these sessions. They are designed to clarify, to elucidate to educate
and the fact that they occasionally also entertain, I don't think they're any the worse for that.
We have two sessions, we have one this morning and we have another one tomorrow, so in
order to get on with it over to you Bhante, thank you.

Sangharakshita: Altogether, I think upwards of twenty questions have come in and I've
arranged them into seven categories. And, I'm going to try to deal with perhaps just a little
somewhat more than half the questions this morning and the rest tomorrow morning. The
classification is as follows: questions about tradition, about spiritual life and practice, about
art and symbolism, medical questions, money and business, Buddhism and the outside world,
and, of course, miscellaneous. So perhaps we will get through three or four of these
categories this morning. But before I start just a couple of more general points. Gunavajra
has referred to the Question and Answer format as being a well tried and tested one, but I
think that in recent months, maybe even in the course of the last year, this familiar structure
has begun to creak and groan a little, one might say under the sheer weight of the questions.
Not so much weight in terms of content but weight in terms of form. Because I've been
finding that in the course of the last year perhaps even two years that some of the questions
have been getting increasingly complex, I've been getting Abhidharma-type questions with
many subdivisions and clauses and all the rest of it, and it's very difficult to deal with those
sorts of questions in this sort of context. So I may be curtailing just one or two of the
questions just because it isn't possible to deal with them adequately in this sort of situation.
And then again, there is another kind of question which is extremely technical. We might
find this for instance in connection with the medical questions. Yes an ethical issue is
involved, a philosophical issue is involved, people want that clarified, quite rightly, quite
naturally but before that can be done one needs information, one needs evidence and that isn't
always immediately available, because, some of the questions, for instance, in the medical
field relate to topics about which I know nothing at all. It's incidentally very useful these
days on the medical side to have Dharmadhara at my elbow because I can always ask him,
but he sometimes confesses there's a difference of opinion among medical men and he
sometimes does something which doctors very rarely do, he says 'We don't know'. So, it isn't
easy to answer technical questions of this kind, immediately.

Sometimes, I think, one needs to set up perhaps a little study group of four or five Order
Members interested in that particular field. Get them to do a certain amount of investigation,
produce a report and then on the basis of that, after thinking things over, I can make my
suggestions. But I think it wouldn't be right for me to try to give definitive sort of answers to
quite complex questions needing specialised knowledge just on the basis of my own personal
experience, general impressions, or even knowledge of Buddhism itself. So those more
technical questions, which can't really be answered in this sort of way I shan't in fact be
attempting to answer. I'll just perhaps, sketch the parameters of the question and just indicate
what needs to be gone into and understood better, more thoroughly before one can even

attempt any sort of comment, or to answer a question. Anyway, having said that let's come
onto the questions about tradition. Where we are simply concerned with tradition it's a much
more simple and straightforward business.
Someone with a long association with Tibetan Buddhism recently attended a puja at our
Centre. He commented afterwards that he was struck by the way we chanted the mantras, in
particular that they seemed to be given an emotional tone. For instance, the Tara mantra
being chanted quite softly in contrast to some of the others. In his previous experience the
only concern had always been to voice the sound clearly and as often as possible. Any
emotional colouring was considered inappropriate. Could you comment on this and the
chanting of mantras in general?

I think, on the whole, in the movement, chanting of mantras generally has improved, I felt
this very much when I was down in London recently and at the L.B.C., I thought there had
been a distinct improvement in the chanting. But to come back to this question about
emotion, emotional tone in the chanting of mantras, I think I have said in the past, perhaps
more than once, that one shouldn't try to inject emotion into the chanting of mantras forcibly.
One shouldn't as it were be too soulful or too even sentimental about it. But at the same time
I don't see that emotion can be altogether excluded. I don't see that it should be excluded
because suppose you do chant the mantra of Tara, that being the example given, you'll have a
certain idea about Tara and a certain feeling about Tara. And as you chant the mantra which
is the invocation to Tara, how can you possibly exclude what you actually feel about Tara, if
in fact you do feel anything. I think it would be natural for you to feel for Tara, as it were,
and to give expression to that in a perfectly natural way, without undue emphasis, without
histrionics, without being unduly dramatic. Perhaps at the back of that person's comment is a
difference of opinion in a way, a difference of attitude in tradition itself. I was thinking this
over and I thought perhaps it's a difference between the magical-cum-scientific approach and
the devotional. Now what do I mean by magical-cum-scientific? There is a school of
thought, both among Buddhists and Hindus, in India and elsewhere, that it is very very
important to pronounce the mantra exactly, correctly because otherwise the sort of magical
result will not be produced. This is especially the case where the mantra is recited
whatsoever mantra it might be, to bring about some sort of worldly, some sort of magical
effect. Great importance is attached to the correct pronunciation, the correct intonation and
so on. Other conditions are subordinated because you want to produce a particular effect and
you believe that the mantra is the means by which you can produce that effect so as part of
the production of means you have to pronounce the mantra correctly.

You're not concerned about feeling, feeling does not matter. That is why you find in some
sort of magical ceremonies in some say Vedic ceremonies no-one bothers about feeling, no
one bothers about beauty, the main thing is to perform the ceremony correctly, as prescribed
by tradition and to recite the mantras correctly, as prescribed by tradition so that the effect
will be produced. So this is what I call the magical-cum-scientific sort of way of looking at
it. It seems like this was at the back of that particular person's mind. The other is the
devotional, where you think of the mantra as very much the name of the deity, or the
Bodhisattva, or whatever, and you recite the mantra out of devotion. You recite it to increase
and enhance your devotion and obviously an emotional element cannot be excluded. So I
think within the FWBO in the first place, yes, we would rather chant mantras correctly, with
correct pronunciation and correct intonation than otherwise and we must try to do that, which
is something the Tibetans themselves don't always succeed in doing. As many of you know,
they regularly chant 'Om Mani Peme Hum', instead of Padme Hum which is incorrect, and
they chant 'Tare Titare' instead of 'Tare Tutare' which is manifestly incorrect. So yes, let's get
the pronunciation and intonation correct if we possibly can. Let us not engage in histrionics,
but I think we may expect that if we have any feeling for the object of the ...

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