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Leading - Women-s Order Convention 1987

by Sangharakshita


Present: Vimala, Dhammadinna, Sanghadevi, Vidyasri, Vajragita,
Vajramala, Jayaprabha, Padmasuri, Ratnadakini
Sangharakshita: You seem to have come up with more questions under
this particular heading than all the other sessions put together. I don't
know to what extent we're going to be able to deal with them. We'll be
able to deal with them, I think, only quite briefly; perhaps we'll have to try
to avoid digressing, and not discuss things which are reasonably clear.
All right, 'Unity of the Order and Leadership and Responsibility in the
In discussing how the Order could take account of the
diversity of nations and cultures, a number of questions arose
concerning 'Shabda'.
Fair enough.
'Shabda' is the organ of Order communication in different
cultures and countries. Is reporting-in the best use of
'Shabda'? How can articles we contribute be sensitive to
other people's cultures as well as being true to ourselves? Do
you think it would uplift 'Shabda' if you contributed to it
regularly, i.e. things you had been thinking about the
Movement, or dharmic points, so that they were transmitted
more directly, rather than matters sometimes being heard
secondhand or not currently, as well as possibly being
misconstrued? Do you think it would ever be necessary to
have different Shabdas for different cultures?
Perhaps some of you aren't aware that we do have a Hindi 'Shabda'. Were
you aware of that? (Murmurs of Yes.) It is rather a skimpy version of the
'Shabda', in the sense that it doesn't contain many pages, but no doubt it
will expand in due course. I think it consists mainly of reportings-in. It's
not so much for a different culture as for a number of people not speaking
English - the majority of Indian Order members don't know English, so
'Shabda' isn't accessible to them, they need some medium of Order
communication, hence there is a Hindi 'Shabda'.
There's recently been a demand, I believe, for a Marathi 'Shabda', because
some of our Marathi-speaking Indian Order members don't really know
Hindi very well, even. That's just by the way. So:
'Shabda' is the organ of Order communication in different
cultures and countries. Is reporting-in the best use of
Well, it's certainly a use of 'Shabda' - reporting-in in 'Shabda' has gone on
for a long time. People do attach great importance to it, I know. I
personally always read the reporting-in sections with quite a lot of interest.
I never miss a single item, I think. Whether it's the best use of 'Shabda' is
another matter, but I think it's a good use of 'Shabda' - assuming, of
course, that people report in responsibly, which certainly hasn't happened
in the past always.
Vidyasri: In what sense do you mean that?
S: Well, in a way the next question really deals with that. 'How can
articles we contribute' - and presumably that includes reporting-in - 'be
sensitive to other people's cultures as well as being true to ourselves?' I
suppose you have to know something about other people's cultures before
you can be sensitive to them.
I think, if you're really in touch with the Dharma, that itself will give you
in principle a sensitivity to other people's cultures. For instance, in some
cultures people might not appreciate the crude, semi-obscene, language
that sometimes even Order members in England indulge in, but I think if
they were really sensitive to the Dharma or imbued with the Dharma, they
wouldn't use that sort of language anyway, because of the speech precepts.
So I think the main thing is not so much to be thinking about sensitivity to
other people's cultures but just thinking in terms of reporting-in or writing
your article in accordance with the spirit of the Dharma. If you did that,
there'd be no likelihood of your hurting people's feelings or treading on
their toes, I think. And if you were sufficiently in touch with the Dharma
that if you did betray some ignorance of certain local customs, the overall
tone of your communication would be so positive that hopefully other
Order members living and working in the midst of some other culture
wouldn't be offended. They'd know that it was just inadvertently that
you'd perhaps trodden on their toes. But I think even that would be
unlikely, if your reporting-in or article was really imbued with the spirit of
the Dharma; I think that's the main thing.
Jayaprabha: So, Bhante, just briefly, in terms of some cultures like India
have marriage, and relationships outside marriage would be seen as quite,
unskilful? - so, in that respect, eventually they're going to have to confront
the fact that this is what happens in the West.
S: I think they already know that. They know it's general in the West -
well, they see Western films. There's been so much reporting-in in
'Shabda' about relationships, and references to boyfriends and girlfriends -
I think the Indian Order members are well aware of these things - as far as
I know. Because there have been such references, haven't there? -
Padmasuri: I've felt in India - certainly the English-speaking ones that
read 'Shabda' do know that. I'm not so sure about the ones who don't read.
S: But then presumably we're talking about the English 'Shabda'?
Padmasuri: Yes. Yes, but then Jayaprabha's question was almost -
should that be more widely known, that kind of thing, anyway?
S: Well, I think it's inevitable. And I think perhaps, if one feels it
necessary, one has to offer an explanation. For instance, I think quite
recently I saw a reporting-in, someone said they'd ended their relationship
with somebody. Well, perhaps one could make it clear that one had taken
that relationship seriously or that maybe one should make it clear that in
the West, or even in Buddhist terms, it was the nature of the relationship
that was important, not its legality in a narrow sense. This is something
that could be quite acceptable from a Buddhist point of view; in fact, I tell
this story about the occasion when I was translating for someone who was
talking to a Tibetan, and that person, a European, wanted to say that two
people were living together but weren't married; and when I tried to
explain that to the Tibetan, he said 'But if they're living together they are
married.' So I think Indian Buddhists could possibly understand things in
that way, if it was properly expressed. Or one could even say, 'We have
been virtually, or in effect, married, though not actually living together, for
several years, but we've now decided to terminate the relationship' - if you
wanted to report that in in 'Shabda'.
Vidyasri: Do you think that people should not report in some things like
that if they think it may be difficult for someone from another country to
understand? - for instance, if two women have a relationship together, that
might be difficult for an Indian to understand?
S: It might be.
Vidyasri: ..... not report in, or that we should, but explain?
S: Yes, it's very difficult to say, isn't it? Because if one is going to have
one Order and one Movement, one can't to any great extent divide it into
separate, watertight cultural compartments. Sooner or later there have got
to be general attitudes accepted and understood by everybody; and
Indians have got conditionings to get over, as well as we have. One can't
rush things, but I think eventually one ought to be able to be completely
open with all other Order members. Perhaps this is something that needs
to be made clearer at the time of ordination, when there's a sort of Order
briefing afterwards - that the Order now embraces people of different
cultural backgrounds, and that one must appreciate the fact that they do in
some cases, for that reason, see things in a very different way. They see
the family in a different way, they perhaps see sexual relationships in a
different way, perhaps they see politics in a different way.
To change the subject, in a way, our Indian Buddhist Friends, Indian Order
members, see involvement in politics in a quite different way from what
we do, usually. In England, at least, the attitude of Order members has
been to opt out of everything of that sort, but our Indian Order members
don't see things in that way at all. They think very much in political terms,
for obvious reasons - or reasons which should be obvious, especially if
you've read 'Ambedkar and Buddhism'.
So perhaps this is a point that could be made. Perhaps in the course of the
Order briefing after ordination, this is an important point that could be
made, that Order members should expect Order members in another
country with different cultural backgrounds to have different attitudes
towards certain things. For instance, in this country we don't feel any
animosity towards Hinduism; we will quite happily quote a verse from the
Bhagavad Gita. But our Indian friends wouldn't be at all happy ...

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