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Authority and the Individual in the New Society and D.H. Lawrence - Guhyaloka Questions and Answers 1987

by Sangharakshita

All hyphens were missing from this file. Some have been reinstated through

Questions and Answers with the venerable Sangharakshita
Guhyaloka, August 1987
Names of those present not available
Authority and the Individual in the New Society
Day 1: 24 August 1987Sangharakshita: Perhaps I had better mention, then, that these questions that I am dealing
with this evening come from Kulamitra's study group. They have been studying the lecture on
'Authority and the Individual in the New Society', and the questions that are being asked arise
out of their study of that text. There are ten questions, so we should be able to get through
them this evening. I have, by the way, arranged them in a rough sequence, with one or two
general questions coming first, then questions which seem to deal with power, then
communities, co-ops there are several questions about coops and the new society. That is the
sequence. did, by the way just as a general point find it quite interesting that, both in this
study group and in the others, there were several questions about power, but I don't think
there was a single question about love! I don't know whether one can draw any conclusion,
but people did seem to be rather more preoccupied with power than love; perhaps love isn't a
problem, I don't know. We shall perhaps come to that, we shall see. Anyway, first of all, a
rather general question which I thought would be a good introduction, so to speak. This is
from Hari, and the question is:
Is there a specific weak point in Buddhism, as belief in God in Christianity, where power
could creep into the spiritual community, turning it into a group?
So, yes, in Christianity, as in Islam and Judaism, we do have belief in God, and people can
represent God and power can creep in in fact has more than crept into those religions. Well,
what about Buddhism? Is there, or could there be, in Buddhism, anything analogous to belief
in God to provide a basis for the exercise of authority by people claiming to represent God, as
it were?Well, clearly there can't be anything really resembling belief in God at all; not on the
face of it. But I think there are other areas, there are other ways, in which a belief could creep
in which could be used in that sort of way. Of course, I don't know what the questioner meant,
but when I speak in terms of 'a specific weak point in Buddhism' I don't mean the Dharma as
such, the teaching of the Buddha, but Buddhism as actually extant and present in the world of
today or even historical Buddhism. Thinking this over, it occurs to me that there are two
points where a belief could creep in that could be used in fact has been used, is being used as
the basis for the exercise or assertion of some kind of authority. The first occurs more [2]
within the Theravada context; the other occurs more within the context of Tibetan Buddhism.
Within the Theravada context, we have the scriptures, the Tipitaka and especially perhaps the
Vinaya, and you can quite often hear or even read representatives of Theravada Buddhism
citing the Tipitaka, and especially the Vinaya, as though that was to be regarded or taken as a
sort of authority, as if to say: 'If you can cite a verse from the Tipitaka to a certain effect, well,
that closes all discussion; that's that. All you have to do is to obey.' There was an instance of
this sort of thing in a conference that Subhuti attended recently. Apparently there was a
Theravada nun present on that conference. I forget how the question actually arose, but
apparently she had been rather doubtful about some particular point of Buddhist practice and
she had asked a bhikkhu about that and he had said, 'The Buddha had done such-and-such and
what the Buddha did is good enough for me' and, by implication, should be good enough for
her too. And she seemed actually to have been quite satisfied with that. So it is as though, in
some cases, in the Theravada world, the scriptures almost take the place of God. It is not
stated in so many words that the scriptures are infallible, but the scriptures are Buddhavacana,
and the Buddha is Enlightened and the Buddha knows best, and there it all is, written in the
Tipitaka; how can you possibly argue with it? How can there possibly be any dispute or any
doubt? All you have to do is just to read the Tipitaka and follow it. But, of course, usually
especially if you are a layman and not a monk, you don't read the Tipitaka at all. In any case,
it is in Pali and you can't read it because you can't understand Pali. But the bhikkhu has read
it, he knows what is in the Tipitaka, so he tells you; and if he says, 'This is what the Tipitaka
says, this is what the Buddha says,' that ends the matter. There is no scope for discussion. You
have simply to accept, obey, follow. So in this way the Tipitaka, though within the Tipitaka
itself there is really no justification for this attitude, comes to occupy a position very similar
to the position of God in the theistic religions, and the bhikkhu, as the one who reads,
understands and interprets, if necessary, the Tipitaka, becomes a source of authority; he
transmits authority, he exercises authority. So that is where power could creep in within the
context of the Theravada, and does in fact creep in. And then Tibetan Buddhism: at what
specific weak point in Tibetan Buddhism does power creep into the spiritual community?
Here, I am afraid, it creeps in through the lama. The lama knows; the lama knows best. You
have only just to obey what your lama tells you to do, what he teaches; you simply have to
follow that without question. I remember that, the last time I was in Spain, when Subhuti and
I had our little lecture tour, we did meet some Spanish followers, just a very few, of Tibetan
Buddhism, and they were faced very much by this problem; because, on the one hand, they
genuinely believed that they ought to follow their lama implicitly, that is to say the lama from
whom they had taken the Refuges; at the same time they could not help feeling he didn't
really understand conditions in the West, conditions in Spain didn't really understand them
very well and, in a sense, at least in certain respects, he wasn't in a position to tell them what
to do, in a position to give them advice. But, on the other hand, as they understood it, they
had undertaken to obey him implicitly by taking the Refuges from him. And that does seem to
be the attitude of quite a few Western followers of Tibetan Buddhism. The authority that they
had formerly vested in God they seem now to invest, in many cases, in the lama; and here
again you can see quite clearly power creeping in, because the lama does exercise power. [3]
So I think, in Buddhism as actually current, there are these specific weak points: that is to say
where, in the case of the Theravada or within the context of the Theravada, the scriptures and
the monk, the bhikkhu, as the interpreter of the scriptures, becomes the authority; and, in
Tibetan Buddhism, where the lama becomes the authority. There is no question of talking
things over with the lama. You ask him, he tells you, and then you go and do what he tells
you to do. Some people like that that is unfortunate but it is hardly Buddhism, it is not a very
Buddhistic attitude, because in what, as far as we can see, are authentic records of what the
Buddha most likely taught, the Buddha does not adopt that sort of attitude at all. He suggests
that people examine his words, not that [they take] them on authority. This is just a general
question; this sort of clears the decks, as it were. All right, we are a bit more specific now.
No, maybe 'specific' isn't quite the right word, because I can't understand the first part of the
question. This question comes from Kulamitra:
Devamitra once said to me: 'Bhante puts the finger on me, I put the finger on you, you jump!'
Are you aware that by claiming to represent you, Order Members can turn a genuine spiritual
hierarchy into a power structure?
What I can't understand is this highly colloquial expression 'put the finger on'! It is not an
expression I am familiar with. I can't say I've ever heard Devamitra use it. I've heard, for
instance, people say: 'Don't dare to lay a finger on me,' which means 'Don't act violently
towards me,' but I'm not sure what this means. I am not aware of putting my finger
Kulamitra: Shall I elucidate, Bhante? I thought it was good to start with an example; that is
the only specific one that I can 'put my finger on'. In this situation, Devamitra had obviously
spoken to you about some matter which I now forget, which he thought was my
responsibility. The point I am making is that he didn't actually explain to me what your
thinking was, how you saw things, asking me whether I could agree with that. Basically the
expression, as I took it, was: 'Bhante says this should happen; he said that to me. I am saying
the same thing to you: this should happen. Now you do it.' That was the meaning as I
understand it.
S: So that could have been quite legitimate? For instance, I could have said to Devamitra:
'Please see that my chair is put in the right place for the question and answer session this
evening,' and he could have said to you: 'Bhante says Please see that my chair etc. etc.' So
what would be wrong with that representing me in that sort of way?
Kulamitra: In this case, as far as I remember, it was ...

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