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Buddha - The - Women-s Pre - ordination Retreat 1986

by Sangharakshita


Women's Preordination Retreat, July 1986 held at 'Rivendell'
Those Present: Ashokasri, Vidyasri, Pat Jilks, Christine Robertson, Carla Remyn,
Sanghadevi, Varabhadri, Kathryn Boon, Vajragita
Sangharakshita: All right, so how many questions? Twelve questions, some of them
subdivided. The first question is:
To what extent was the word 'Buddha' in use prior to the Enlightenment of Sakyamuni? Did
Sakyamuni redefine the word by virtue of what he was, and communicate something greater
than its original meaning?
In this connection we have to remember that the Buddha did after all have to use the language
that was current in his day, but clearly, inasmuch as he had had a deeper experience than any
of the other people who used that language in his time, he modified the meanings of many
words - sometimes even changed them completely - by the way in which he used them. And
'Buddha' is one of those words. 'Buddha' comes from a root meaning simply 'to understand';
so 'Buddha' literally means, or literally meant originally, simply 'one who understands', and it
came to assume the meaning of 'a wise man' - but not 'an Enlightened man' in the strictly
Buddhistic sense. It seems to have acquired that usage during the Buddha's lifetime.
Perhaps we should also remember that the Buddha was known, so far as we can tell, during
his lifetime, by quite a number of different terms. quite a number of different names. He
wasn't simply called 'the Buddha'. It is doubtful if 'Buddha' was the most common word that
was used for him during his own lifetime; it seems that 'Tathagata' was very common,
'Bhagavan' was very common, especially as a mode of address; 'Jina' was very common;
'Mahavira' was very common. All these terms were used of him; 'Sakyamuni' was very
common. So in the West we tend to think of the Buddha just as 'the Buddha', but in the
Buddha's own day and in the East today, perhaps, there's a much wider variety of terms for
him. So, yes, one can say, in the words of the question, that Sakyamuni did redefine the word
by virtue of what he was. We know that language is in any case changing all the time, as
people's experience extends and expands. The meanings of words are changing. If, for
instance, you look words up in Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, if you have a copy, you will find that
he sometimes gives rather different meanings to words with which we are familiar today,
because during the 200 years that have passed since his time the meaning of the word has
changed. For instance, the word 'nice': in his day it meant sort of precise, exact, particular,
fastidious. It wasn't used as a general term of approbation at all, it didn't have that meaning.
And 'polite': polite in his day meant cultured or cultivated. 'He is a very polite man' meant he
was a cultivated man. So we [2] have to be quite careful when we read Johnson, otherwise
there are subtle misunderstandings, because we take the words that he uses in their modern
Sanghadevi: ... the story, for instance, of somebody who meets some of the Buddha's
disciples, and he hears the word 'Buddha' and he says 'Did you say "Buddha"?' - as if the very
word ...
S: Right. As though it did have a special meaning. That was Anathapindika.
Sanghadevi: ... looking for a Buddha.
S: A wise man. Yes. Though it's doubtful, perhaps, if he attached to that term the full
meaning that it came to have at a later time. He could have meant simply 'Did you say a wise
man?' Do you see what I mean? Because even wise men were rare. Well, they still are. I think
this suggests we have to be very sensitive to the meanings of words in the sense that we
realize that meanings can change, and that the context in which a word is used can make quite
a difference to the word itself, the meaning of the word itself. It's not enough just to
understand a word in its ordinary straightforward dictionary sense. This is one of the merits of
Johnson's Dictionary, by the way, because he gives a number of quotations from standard
English authors, illustrating the way in which the word is used. I believe he was the first to do
that, though it has subsequently become the usual thing in the case of really big dictionaries.
All right, let's go on to No. 2. This is rather more complicated. It comes from Tertu, it says.
On page 18 of Mitrata Omnibus , you say, following the dictionary definition, that 'an
archetype is the model of a work.' This sounds practical, like something we make, not just a
mental image or symbol. What is this work? What is this making? What is the relationship
between this practical level of activity and the imagination?
So 'an archetype is the model of a work'. 'This sounds practical, like something we make, not
just a mental image or symbol.' Hm. I think we can say that an archetype is the model of a
work in two different ways or two different senses; because one can take the term archetype
and the term model in two quite different ways. One can use 'archetype' or 'model', or
archetype in the sense of model, as meaning a model or a pattern which is in the mind but
merely in the mind. Just a mental idea; something that you imagine in the more ordinary
sense of the term. But you can also take 'archetype' in the sense of model in another sense.
You can take it in the sense of something actually existing in a higher world, not just in your
mind; something actually existing in a higher world, which is or becomes the model or
pattern of a work. Do you see the distinction?
What would be an example of the first kind - that is to say, archetype in the sense of a model,
just an idea in your mind? Well, it could be a picture that you wanted ...
Christine: ... the archetype of the old man, that sort of archetype?
S: No, I'm thinking in a way in more simple terms than that. Supposing you have an idea of
something that you want to paint. Supposing you think you'd just like to paint a picture of a
flower, and you have a pretty clear idea of the sort of flower that you want to paint - well, the
idea that you have in your mind of the flower is the archetype or model of the flower that you
actually paint. But supposing you want to paint a picture of Manjusri - not just the idea of him
that you have in your mind, but a painting of Manjusri as he actually is, so to speak, in the
higher spiritual and Transcendental realm. Well, there, obviously, you would be - the work
that you produced would be based on or modelled after an archetype which actually existed,
which didn't exist merely in your own mind. But obviously, in order to represent that
archetype you'd have to experience it; and what, say, painters of pictures of Manjusri usually
do - they don't experience the archetype and then paint it; they get their ideas [3] either from
paintings which other people have made, with or without experience of that archetype, that
Manjusri archetype, or they just base it on ideas. For instance, they know that Manjusri is the
Bodhisattva of wisdom, and they know that traditionally he has a yellow colour, and they
know that traditionally he is sixteen years old and he looks like this and he looks like that;
well, they don't have any actual experience of the archetype.
So one can say that there are two kinds of archetype and therefore there are two kinds of ways
in which an archetype can be the model of a work. The work can be modelled just on an idea
which you have in your own mind, and nothing more than that, or it can be modelled on
something belonging to a higher spiritual realm which you actually experience. Of course,
you could also say that there is perhaps no absolutely hard and fast line between the two
things as between two, say, sets of things. I mentioned the example of a flower; well, you can
have an idea of a flower and simply draw the idea, but could there not also be a flower
archetype - just like a Manjughosa archetype? Because Manjughosa after all has blue lotuses,
hasn't he? So perhaps one could say that - leaving aside particular examples - a work can be
modelled on an archetype in two ways or in two senses: either modelled on an idea which is
in your own mind, regardless of what it is an idea of, or modelled on something which does
exist in a higher spiritual or Transcendental realm which you do actually experience,
regardless of what it actually is, whether it's a human form or a flower or a tree or a precious
stone or whatever; because all these things, one might say, are archetypes or have archetypes
existing on that higher level. So is that difference clear?
So 'This sounds practical, like something we make, not just a mental image or symbol.' So
obviously you can make both; you can make a work which is modelled on an idea, and you
can make a work which is modelled on an experience of an archetype in the higher sense. So
'What is this work? And what is this making?' Well! [Laughter] Well, I suppose one can take
the example of the 'work' of art. You can produce a work of art which is based upon ideas. It
does seem, in the history of art, especially modern art, that quite a few painters did paint in
accordance with their ideas rather than in accordance with their actual experience, whether
archetypal or something else... Blake was an example of an artist who painted in accordance
with his experience, whatever the ...

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