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Women-s Order Convention 1987 - General Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita


[Women's Order Convention 1987]
Those Present:
All those attending the Women's Order Convention.
__________: ..... has already led or taken seven question and answer sessions with us in
small groups on particular topics, and this evening he's agreed to accept general questions.
So Bhante - Questions and Answers.
Sangharakshita: I think they're miscellaneous rather than general. [Laughter]
We start off with something quite nice and straightforward.
Order members seem to be travelling around the world visiting Buddhist
temples. We may want to express that we are more than just Buddhist lay
people. What sort of ritual expression could we use to show our respect and
to other Buddhists? Should we try to adapt to each local tradition or we
should we have a unified way of expressing ourselves?
I don't think the situation is really so difficult as the question perhaps suggests. I think the
most important thing is that when one enters a Buddhist shrine or temple, that is to say
wherever there are images of the Buddha and/or Bodhisattvas, one should show one's
respect in some quite definite traditional manner. That is one should show it either by
prostrating oneself or by just a very deep bow at least. Usually there will be facilities for
lighting candles, incense sticks, and even for making other offerings. If you're just a little
observant you can see what the local custom is.
I must however warn you that in most Buddhist temples you are expected to bring your
own candles and incense, or if they are available on the premises you are expected to pay
for them. Usually in the FWBO we provide them, as it were, but that isn't the general
custom in the East. One must remember that. Otherwise people would think it extremely
odd you helped yourself to the candle and incense and didn't pay for them. So I think
these are the main things. In many Buddhist countries you find there's no, as it were,
congregational worship. People, whether lay people or monks and nuns, are free just to
go along to the temple and just worship as they wish. If the place seems fairly frequented
and if you, and perhaps other FWBO Friends, other Order members who may be with you,
wish to perform a puja of your own, say the Sevenfold Puja, it probably would be
advisable just to seek out the monk or priest or nun in charge and just ask if they'd mind
you doing that, and say it will take about twenty minutes or half an hour, just so that you
don't interrupt anything else that might have been planned. I know that in the Centres, in
the temples, of the Mahabodhi Society in India, that was always possible, it was always
happening. Different parties of pilgrims would be performing their own devotions in the
shrine room, but usually it's advisable to check one isn't going to clash with any regular
puja or regular ceremony that may be held there. One shouldn't really have any difficulty
at all.
And also, of course, wear your kesas. Perhaps wear them anyway when visiting a temple,
just to make it clear that you aren't just a tourist, not even just an ordinary lay Buddhist.
Otherwise if you just walk in in slacks and a shirt, well who's to know the difference
between you and an ordinary tourist, especially if you're carrying an camera and wearing
sunglasses [Laughter] or something of that sort. At least show that you are a committed
ordained Buddhist in that sort of way. I don't think there's any real difficulty, and just be
a little sensitive to local customs. In some Buddhist countries they remove their shoes.
Not only before entering the temple, even at the gate in some cases, so just keep an eye
open, either for notices to that effect or for other shoes just to one side of the gate. You
then know that you should remove yours. Just check whether there's anybody in charge
to look after them, so that they're not stolen while you're inside. That does sometimes
happen. Yes, I'm afraid. I don't think there's any real difficulty at all.
With regard to adapting to each local tradition, I don't think that really matters very much.
The variations aren't really so great when it comes to bowing or prostrating or chanting
or offering candles or offering lights, even if there is some difference in your way of
doing things. People understand that you are doing basically the same thing. I don't think
there would be any difficulty in this respect. Is that quite clear? I think very often people
will be only too glad to see Buddhists from the West paying their respects to the Buddha
or the Bodhisattvas in that way.
To experience joy in dependence upon faith one needs a clear conscience,
however, although faith may be present, one's conscience may not be
completely clear due to past negative mental states and actions of which
one may not be fully aware. I have found it helpful to recite confessional
verses on a regular basis. To what extent would you recommend the
extended practice of reciting confessional verses as a means of clearing
negative mental states accumulated from the past? Could you suggest any
other practices which would particularly help in this regard?
I think it's a really very good idea to recite confessional verses, especially perhaps those
from the Sevenfold Puja and/or from the Sutra of Golden Light. There are verses there
which we know very well, with which we're very familiar - recite them as often as one
feels the need to do so. In Mahayana countries it's very often a practice not only to recite
confessional verses but, at the same time - I don't mean literally at the same time but in
that same connection - to light incense and to make a number of prostrations. So that also
is a useful practice, and of course the recitation of the Vajrasattva mantra, as well as the
visualisation of Vajrasattva and the reciting of the connected verses and so on. All these
things one can do. One can take it that there are negative mental states and actions coming
from the past, sometimes the pretty recent past, of which one needs really to purge
oneself. So the recitation of confessional verses, as well as all the other things I've
mentioned are really very useful, even necessary.
Yes, one could also perhaps suggest - this is a common practice in some parts of the East,
that before reciting the confessional verses, depending on circumstances and exactly
where you are, you have a wash - at least wash your hands and face, even a bath,
especially if you're in India - Indians normally do bathe before undertaking any religious
practice. That does certainly help create the right sort of mental attitude.
In a recent article in 'Shabda', Sasannaratna wrote that he thought many
friends, mitras and even Order members seemed to lack a real enthusiasm
and love for the Dharma as a source of personal happiness and that they
often show a split between a grosser kind of hedonism and a rather wilful
and sombre approach to spiritual activities.
I haven't noticed it this week. [Laughter]
He thought that a healthy hedonism was lacking in the movement and that
we could encourage Friends and mitras to develop a more pleasure seeking
attitude towards spiritual growth, and to be less problem oriented. Do you
think that there is something in this point of view? If so what can be done
about it?
I think perhaps we are still a bit too problem oriented on the whole. I think it is important
that we do learn to delight in the Dharma, to rejoice in the Dharma and really enjoy the
Dharma. I think there are all sorts of ways in which we can do that. Well obviously you
should enjoy every aspect of Dharma life and Dharma activity - even perhaps the
confession of sins. Faults, sorry! [Laughter] You can enjoy decorating the shrine, you can
enjoy performing a puja, you can enjoy meeting your friends, you can enjoy a Dharma
discussion, you can enjoy going for a walk with someone, you can enjoy being alone, you
can enjoy meditating, you can enjoy reading the sutras. If the Perfection of Wisdom is a
bit too heavy, well never mind, read the Jataka stories! [Laughter]
I was thinking recently we ought to make much more of the Jataka stories. I don't think
we read them enough. It did occur to me the other day, and here I'm expressing a
completely new idea that no one has heard before, [Laughter] which is to the effect that
we could regard the Jataka stories as the Old Testament of Buddhism.[Laughter] Now,
what on earth do I mean by that? You know very well - those of you who were once upon
a time, Christians or something of that sort - that in the Christian religion there's a bible
isn't there, you all know that I think, a book called the bible, [Laughter] a fat book. Well
it's divided, in case you don't know into two main parts [Laughter throughout]. One is
called the Old Testament and one is called the New Testament, and the Old Testament
consists of a number of books produced by the Jews. The New Testament consists of
books centring upon the life and teaching of someone called Jesus who was a Jew but he
was a rather different kind of Jew [Laughter] because unlike other Jews ...

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