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Kalyana Mitrata - Women's Order Convention 1987

by Sangharakshita

Question and answer session on

Communication/kalyana mitrata in the Order
Women's Convention, Taraloka, July 1987
Those present:
The Venerable Sangharakshita, Anoma, Vimala, Vidyasri,
Dayasri, Varabhadri, Ratnasuri, Punyavati, Kalyanasri,
Jayaprabha, Megha, Tarasri.
a) We discussed the area of editorship of 'Shabda' quite fully and the general
feeling was that there shouldn't be any. We thought that rather than edit, it
would be better to encourage and inspire Order members to improve the
standard of their contributions and that one way of doing this might be to
include the Speech Precepts at the front of every issue. Also, by not having
editorship of 'Shabda' we are able to know the condition of the Order and act
accordingly. Would you comment on these points?
Sangharakshita: Well yes, obviously I also think it would be better not to have
any editing, but on the other hand I have to say I have been quite disappointed in
the past, in fact, quite disgusted, even, by some of the contributions over the last,
well, so many years. And while it might be a good idea, or would be a good idea to
improve the standard of contributions and include the Speech Precepts in the front
of every issue, one mustn't forget that all Order members have taken those Precepts.
Yes? They repeat them from time to time. So if, in some cases, they are not taking
them seriously, as would seem to be the case, not only with regard to what they
contribute to 'Shabda', but sometimes in their personal communication with one
another, well is just printing them in the front of 'Shabda' going to make a very
great difference? I think probably not, unfortunately. There are now 300 Order
members and I think one is faced by the problem that sometimes the odd Order
member does fail in this respect. So what is one to do under those conditions? One
needs a sort of fall back position, as it were. This is the problem that really
confronts us. it really means that not all Order members, though there may not be
many of them, not all Order members are fully responsible. One or two
contributions I've seen over the last couple of years have made me almost doubt the
sanity of the Order member concerned. So, again, what is one to do?
Vidyasri: But, well, you don't think, then, by having what they're contributing,
however unpleasant, actually printed, that it shows, it lets us know ....
S: Well, that's true, if it's merely unpleasant, I think that's one thing. Though again,
I sometimes think, well why should just the odd person inflict so much negativity
on the whole of the Order? I mean, there have been occasions in the past, especially
I think some four or five years ago when, after reading certain pages of 'Shabda' I
really felt quite sick and disgusted, and wondered whether I hadn't been wasting my
time all those years. I really did. I mean, certain people seem just to go completely
beyond the limit, as it were. Some of you might recall some of those instances.
And also when, for instance, 'Shabda' is made the medium of a controversy just
between two people. (murmurs of agreement.) Why can't they sort it out separately
or quite apart from 'Shabda'? Does everybody have to know about all that? Does all
that negativity have to be inflicted on the whole Order? (Pause.)
There is a question touched on in the next question, about legal matters, because
there was an instance, not all that long ago, when someone happened to enter
Britain without any money and the customs people searched his luggage and came
across a copy of 'Shabda' and read the whole thing. Oh, that wasn't known to
people? This happened, I'm not sure if it was last year or the year before. This is
what particularly alerted me to the fact that we had, perhaps, to be more careful than
we had been. Especially if an issue of 'Shabda' contained material which brought
anybody within the law. I mean, for instance, a reference to drug taking or
something of that sort. So what are we to do? If an Order member is irresponsible
well, should there not be some means of protecting the Order as a whole against
that irresponsibility? Can freedom of speech, as it were, be regarded as the sole
value? is that the only thing that we have to consider? (Pause.)
Jayaprabha: Do you think, Bhante, that people ...... because Virananda just
announced this was happening and presumably we were all aware up to that why he
was doing it but maybe some of the people who were writing these things wouldn't
be totally aware that they were causing them. I mean do you think ..?
S: I think in some cases in the past, at least, I mean if the people concerned didn't
realize that what they were writing was negative etc., etc., well that almost suggests
that they don't have enough awareness to be an Order member. I mean, these are
not just very subtle instances. They've usually been very gross and obvious
instances of wrong speech. I mean, sometimes even just pure abuse, even obscene
abuse of other Order members in the pages of 'Shabda'. So I don't think sort of
letting it all hang out is necessarily a virtue.
Jayaprabha: No, I was just thinking that maybe it could be spelt out more.
S: I would have thought, I mean my own view has always been, well, it is already
spelled out in the precepts which one has taken as an Order member, which one
repeats so often. It's as though people don't take that Precept seriously, or those
Precepts seriously. I can think of a whole series of 'Shabda's of four or five years
ago when it was almost painful to read 'Shabda' at times.
Vidyasri: Then it seems to come back to other Order members, say, in that person's
Chapter, needing to very much communicate or to give feedback on that
S: Yes, that's true. But, in some cases, when the contribution has been made it's
too late. As it were, the damage has been done. What is one to do to prevent
damage which may, in some cases, be irreparable? What is one to do then? (Pause.)
I think, in the case of certain Order members, there is a sort of feeling that 'free
speech' is the absolute value, and nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of
that, regardless of any damage that may be done. Regardless of anybody's feelings,
you've got to have the right to say whatever you want to say. That seems to me to
be highly individualistic. But there is that sort of impression in some people's
minds. (Pause.)
Punyavati: So, in a way, like, as Order members, sometimes we forget that by
using the freedom of speech we can actually use that in terms of applying the
positive side of the four Precepts that we've taken and influencing the Order, the
other Order members, through 'Shabda' in that sort of way, in a positive way.
S: I mean generally speaking things have improved over the last few years, but, I
mean, they are by no means perfect, as you know. (Pause.) So, I mean, my personal
feeling is, which in a way I regret, that not every Order member is so responsible
that one can have in them an implicit trust that they can be free to say whatever they
wish in 'Shabda'. Unfortunately I don't have that confidence in the Order as a whole
- mainly on account of just a very few people - any longer. well, I didn't really have
it even perhaps at the beginning. (Pause.) But there were times in the past when I
was almost tempted to think well, better not to have a 'Shabda' at all. I was really so
ashamed of it sometimes. I mean so ashamed of the material that appeared. But
then also people are so reactive, again, about this whole question of authority, you
see. They're almost mad in this respect. They're so concerned with their own so-
called freedom.
Ratnasuri: Freedom implies responsibility.
S: Yes, indeed. in some cases that isn't realized. I mean, since we're on the subject,
one of the things I have wondered is why is it that to the best of my recollection all
these sort of negative contributions have been made by men? Not a single one by
women, Well, why is that? it seems very odd.
Ratnasuri: Perhaps women are more responsible.
S: Well women as well as men have got greed, hatred and confusion. So why don't
they do this?
Vidyasri: I think partly we're less, we're more scared to come out. I think that's
part of it because we don't come out as much in 'Shabda' anyway as the men.
S: But anyway, I think the main point that really emerges so far as I'm concerned is
that there obviously shouldn't be a need for any editorship at all. A handful of
Order members have shown that in the interest of the Order as a whole, we really
need to have some editorship. I mean, even though some people see that as
censorship, well if they do well so be it. I mean the Order as a whole has to be
protected from their irresponsibility. And certainly Order members can be
encouraged and inspired to improve the standard of their contributions but they've
got to be open to seeing that some of their contributions have been undesirable and
negative. And they're not always open to that. Sometimes they are very stubborn
and resistant and emphasize very strongly their so-called freedom of speech. And
their resistance to what they see as authority.
Jayaprabha: ...

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