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Guhyaloka 1988 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita

Hyphens were missing from this file. Some have been reinstated through spellchecking.

Guhyaloka 1988
The venerable Sangharakshita
Questions and Answers at the Men's Ordination Retreat, Guhyaloka, May/June 1988.
Present: Sangharakshita, Dharmacharis Vessantara, Dharmapala, Bodhiraja, Vairocana,
Purna, Dharmavira, Surata, Vajrananda, Ratnaghosa (Ben Murphy), Satyabandhu (Alain
Seneque), Paramartha (Damon Peterson), Paramashanti (Stanley Gordon), Ratnabandhu
(Anthony Sharkey), Vimalabandhu (Tjoan Thung), Aryasingha (David Morrin), Varaghosa
(Dan Satterthwaite), Aryaguna (Chris Watson).
Session I, 26.5.88Tape 1, Side 1Sangharakshita: ... questions from the various groups, minus two which were in fact answered
in one of the discussion groups and which we probably do not need to go over again. I have
not arranged the questions in any order they are rather miscellaneous so I will go through
them in the order in which they have in fact been written out. Some of them do not require
very much by way of comment; others perhaps need to be gone into a little exhaustively. We
shall see. The first question is from Vessantara's group, and is from Vessantara himself:
In the Going for Refuge pamphlet, you mention the four criteria which people have to satisfy
to be accepted as Mitras. Our group noted that there is no ethical criterion i.e. no overt
stipulation that prospective Mitras be making a serious effort to follow the Five Precepts. Do
you think that some ethical criterion should be added to the four existing criteria, and if so
how should it be phrased?
Looking back to the earlier days when we introduced the Mitra system, as far as I can
recollect I personally took it for granted that Mitras would be observing, or trying to observe,
the Five Precepts, because after all those are always recited in the course of our public Pujas
immediately following the Three Refuges; so even if one is not yet able effectively to Go for
Refuge one can at least practise, or try to practise, the Five Precepts. But it could be I am
quite open to the idea that it would be a good thing to spell this out much more, and when
someone is being considered for Mitra membership it might be a good idea to actually
consider whether that person is leading an ethical life, is making an effort to practise the Five
Precepts; also, perhaps, look at his livelihood situation whether he is in fact following Right
Livelihood, or at least avoiding the cruder forms of wrong means of livelihood. how did the
question actually come up? Did it just occur to somebody?
Vessantara: I think so. At the beginning of the booklet you outline the four criteria, and it just
seemed in a way strange that there wasn't any explicit ethical criterion. And it did just seem
that if there were such a thing it would be a very good opportunity to go into the observance
of the Five Precepts by the prospective Mitra.
S: And is that ever in effect done, do you know? Supposing someone was proposed as a Mitra
and fulfilled, or seemed to fulfil, the four criteria but none the less was known to be leading,
in certain respects, a rather unethical life, would that not surely come up one would imagine?
Voices: It would. Yes, I think so.
S: So presumably, in effect, that criterion is implied. One assumes, or one expects, that
prospective Mitras are observing the Five Precepts, and if one finds or notices that anyone
isn't, one considers that, one brings that up. But none the less it might be better to look into it
more closely, to give an extra emphasis, perhaps, to the importance of ethics. For instance,
one point that does occur to me at once is that in the FWBO, or even in the Order, we don't
make it an absolute rule that people should abstain from alcohol, but if a prospective Mitra,
[not] to speak of a prospective Order Member, was known to be prone to drunkenness and did
get drunk quite regularly, clearly he or she, even could not be considered for Mitraship. But
there have been Mitras with drink problems. I can think of one at this very moment who does
drink much too much; but he has become a Mitra, and I wonder whether it was known, when
he was accepted as a Mitra, that in fact he did have this particular habit; because, though he is
a good person in many ways, he does have this weakness, and perhaps it would have been
better to go into it before he was accepted as a Mitra. He has been a Mitra several years, in
fact, now. Or if someone was known to be living by dishonest means I suppose that would
also come under wrong means of livelihood; but if he had, for instance, been guilty of theft
and one or two people, one or two Mitras, even, I know, in the past have been guilty of theft
in their pre-FWBO days, and I wonder whether in all cases it was cleared up before they were
accepted as Mitras. Again it would be desirable if that was done. These are rather exceptional
cases, I must say. I don't want to start drawing up a whole long list of criteria, but it does also
occur to me that it isn't really a good thing if someone is accepted as a Mitra, broadly
speaking, if he is weighed down by debt. We even do make that point, of course, in
connection with Order Members. First of all, if you do owe money to other people, you are in
a rather difficult position, because really you are I think I have gone into this in the Ten
Pillars you are actually hanging on to money which belongs to somebody else; unless, of
course as I think I have also mentioned you have borrowed it from a bank, they have agreed
to lend it to you for so many years at such-and-such rate of interest; that is different, I don't
mean that. If you have borrowed from friends or relations, and perhaps they even need the
money and you still are not paying it back, you are in a very ambiguous and dubiously ethical
position. So that should ideally be cleared up before ordination or before being accepted as a
Mitra, even. I know sometimes people do deliberately get into a reasonable amount of debt
for a short period, knowing that they can clear it off and fully intend to do so. That is perhaps
slightly different. But where someone persistently remains in debt and does not make a
serious effort to clear off his debts, that isn't really a very ethical position to be in. Can
anybody think of any other possibly weak ethical areas where prospective Mitras may be
: There is the question of abortion as well.
S: Yes, especially in the case of women, I suppose; and men to the extent that they might
have been parties to it. I have pondered this several times, because there have been several
women Mitras who as Mitras have had abortions, even though it was made clear to them by
women Order Members that this was not considered ethical in Buddhism. Just very recently,
just a few days ago, I got a letter or report in this connection. About three years ago there was
one particular woman in fact, there were several cases at that time, but there was one
particular woman Mitra who did have an abortion; and she maintained that it was not
unethical and had no psychological effect on her whatever. But now, three years later, I hear
[3] she is beginning to think or to feel that it has had a psychological effect upon her, and that
she now has to deal with that. In the case, say, of a woman and there have been a number of
such instances who had an abortion years and years ago before she even heard of Buddhism
or came into contact with the Friends one just had to say, 'Well, look, just recognize it was
skilful; you didn't know any better; just feel rational regret for it and put it behind you, and
just resolve that you won't have recourse to abortion again' if it is so far back in that person's
non-Buddhist past. But I am really very sorry if women Mitras have abortions, but there have
been a few such cases, in fact.
Surata: We usually check that at Mitra convenor's level; it is always gone into, especially with
women. But if there are men in a relationship, we usually go into it with them as well.
S: That's good.
Surata: It's considered a sort of esoteric criterion.
S: Ha ha! yes. If Mitra convenors are well aware of this and raise these points, that is fine,
yes. But perhaps it should be, so to speak, codified.
Surata: I think, with regard to the practice of the Precepts, we probably notice things that are
obvious contraventions, as it were, but we don't necessarily formally go through them all
when we look at it, which might be a good idea.
S: Yes, it would help make the whole thing more systematic; because someone for instance,
the person I mentioned, the man who actually was very much given to alcohol at the time he
was accepted as a Mitra in his case that could not have been looked at. Perhaps people were
not even aware of it, if he doesn't turn up actually under the influence of alcohol at the centre
and no one knows him very well personally, how is it, so to speak, to come out unless it is
actually inquired into, or he is directly asked? so I believe we have had prospective Mitras,
even Mitras, who have been involved in various shady deals particularly, perhaps, in east
London! (Laughter.) That needs a little bit of looking at. Sometimes you need to convince a
person that, actually, something that he has done is not really very ethical, because people in
Bethnal Green I mean I am not only mentioning people in Bethnal Green but some people, at
least, in Bethnal ...

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