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Men-s Order Convention 1985 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita


SANGHARAKSHITA IN SEMINAR


QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSIONS
- MEN'S ORDER CONVENTION 1985 -

Nagabodhi: It's my very pleasant duty to introduce Bhante for a question and answer session.
Bhante's very fond of introducing people who know, who need no introduction and I don't think
Bhante needs any but perhaps it's worth introducing the question and answer session which just a
few words. These words 'question and answer' session tend to roll off the tongue. They're there in
the programme, a 'question and answer' session. Three 'question and answer' sessions during the
convention. But if you think about it it's really quite remarkable because Bhante invites questions
and we all know he doesn't invite just any old question, he's inviting questions that we have failed to
answer for ourselves whether they're about spiritual life, about the more practical dimension of the
movement, about Buddhist tradition, about Buddhist metaphysics. They're questions that we've
already thought about, tried to answer for ourselves, perhaps discussed with our friends in our
chapters, and we've been stumped.

And so we present these questions to Bhante knowing, in full confidence that he will answer them. I
mean it really is quite a remarkable opportunity that we're being given by Bhante to have our
questions answered and not glossed over or not just, perhaps pushed into one area or another but to
be actually answered and that really is quite a considerable expectation that we come with. If it was
anybody else I would say it would be very difficult for Bhante to take the rostrum under those
circumstances but I know Bhante feels no, no lack of confidence at all because he's more than
capable of


answering our questions. As things stand I know we have enough questions for tonight but I believe
we still have space for more questions on the next two sessions. So please think very hard, rack your
minds and your memories for those questions because it is a wonderful opportunity that Bhante is
giving us to have our questions answered. So that's it. I'll now hand you over to Bhante to answer
our questions. (Pause)

Sangharakshita: Tonight we have rather a mixed bag of questions. In fact the bag is so mixed that I
haven't been able to sort out the questions into different categories as I did for the question and
answer sessions on the mixed convention. So we're going to take the questions more or less as they
come. I don't think I'm going to be able to get through all of them this evening. In fact I'm pretty
certain I won't be able to because several have come in more or less at the last minute. So I think we
have more than enough questions for tonight's session and some will necessarily be carried over to a
future occasion.

The questions also are of several different kinds in the sense that some, I mean, are questions of the
sort that Nagabodhi has referred to, that is to say, questions that Order Members haven't been able to
answer for themselves. A few I suspect don't quite fall into that category. They may be questions
which it is difficult, so to speak, to find out the answer to rather than actually impossible. We start
off with an apparently quite simple question. At least it's very short. The question is:

"Briefly, what is vedanta?"

Well that's a question about which a lot could be said. One could look it up I suppose in an
encyclopaedia. One could look it up in a general book about Indian religion and philosophy. One
could look it up in the Hastings Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. One might even be able to

look it up within Encyclopaedia Britannica. I haven't checked but vedanta is indeed a vast subject
and a lot has been written about it. Perhaps the questioner was afraid of becoming lost in the woods.
In fact there is quite a famous book called "Rambles in the woods of vedanta". (Laughter) I believe
it was in seven volumes! So I shall try to keep my reply brief and to the point. So "What is
vedanta?"

The word vedanta is made up of two parts. It's veda and anta. Anta means 'end' literally but it
doesn't mean quite end here, it means something like 'essence' and 'veda' of course means veda. But
what does one mean by veda. Here what is referred to, one might say, is the fourfold veda or four
vedas. That is to say, the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda of the Brahminical
Hindu tradition. Each of the vedas is subdivided. It's subdivided into what is called a mantra part.
The mantra part consists of hymns as we usually call them to different vedic divinities. There are
hymns to the Sun. There are hymns to the Wind or winds. There are hymns to the sacred soma plant
or juice. There are hymns to the god Indra. There are hymns to the dawn. The hymns to the dawn,
(Ushas?), are among the most beautiful in the whole collection. There are hymns to Rudra and in the
case of the Atharvaveda especially there are hymns to all sorts of minor divinities and sometimes
philosophical divinities. The Atharvaveda being rather a mixed bag of earlier and later material.

So first of all in each of the vedas there comes this mantra section. Then one has a section of
brahmanas. Not to be confused with the brahmanas who are Brahmins in the sense of priests. The
brahmanas are rather curious documents. They deal mainly with rituals of various kinds; rituals for
various purposes; mundane purposes and they deal with the way in which the mantras, the hymns to
the gods, are to be used for ritualistic purposes. I'm speaking very, very broadly.

There are a few exceptions to what I've said. And then one has got thirdly and in a way most
importantly, an aranyika(?) section. Aranyika(?) literally means 'forest book'. And the most
important sections of the Aranyikas(?) are what we call the Upanishads. I think that everybody has
heard of the Upanishads. There's quite a number of Upanishads. Some are really and genuinely part
of Vedic literature, others are only very nominally so, having been composed many, many centuries
later. There are said to be traditionally one hundred and eight Upanishads and there are about eighty
to a hundred in actual circulation and eight or ten of these are usually referred to as the chief
Upanishads. They're the oldest of the Upanishads. And they were formerly held to be earlier than
the Buddha and His teachings but opinion is beginning to veer it seems and it may well be that they
are either contemporaneous with the Buddha or a little later. It's now seen that some of them at least
show traces of the influence of Buddhism which was not formerly recognised. So one has got this
vast Vedic literature. It is really vast considering of the mantra part of Vedas, the brahmana part, the
Aranyika including the Upanishadic part.

So Vedanta, the term Vedanta in its primary significance refers to the teaching of the Upanishads.
The Upanishads come at the end of the Vedic literature and are also held to constitute its essence or
quintessence. This is not to say that the teaching of the Upanishads is at all uniform. The Upanishads
can take many different trends or strains of thought. They're certainly not a unified teaching. In the
Upanishads different teachings are attributed to different ancient sages.

The term Upanishad itself is often explained as meaning 'to sit near', that is to say to 'sit near' a
teacher for the purposes of receiving instruction. So the Upanishads are generally considered to
contain, so to speak, the higher teachings of the Vedic tradition. And it is significant that in many
cases the teachers are not Brahmins but Kshatriyas. And to some extent they're all incorporated in
the Vedic literature. To some extent, at least some teachings of the Upanishads represent a sort of
revolt or reaction against the Brahmins and against their ritualism, against their sarcedotalism and so
on. Now in the course of the development of Indian thought the Upanishads, especially the major

Upanishads, the principal Upanishads, form a very important part but not in their raw state, as it
were, but as commented on by a succession of Hindu teachers, Hindu philosophers who are usually
called acharyas. So in this way you get a number of schools of Indian philosophy developing,
growing out of the commentaries of these various acharyas on the Upanishads. And in its secondary
sense, and perhaps more secular or popular sense, Vedanta means 'the philosophy of philosophies' of
those acharyas, especially in modern times, the first of them.

The first of them of course was Shankara, sometimes called Shankaracharya who commented on the
Upanishads and also a work called the Vedanta sutras, sometimes called ...

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