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Transcribing the oral tradition...

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National Gathering 1988 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita


Questions and Answers at the
Padmaloka National Gathering,

November 19th 1988

Subhuti: .... come down and answer our questions tonight. It's a very rare occurrence these days that
we see Bhante in such situations and we're very grateful to you for coming down like this, and
looking forward to seeing what questions there are and what answers you'll give. So I'll just leave it
to you.

Sangharakshita: I must say there weren't very many questions. In fact there are only thirteen
questions, though some of them are composite questions - A, B, C, and so on, which is rather,
perhaps, one question for every two persons present. Perhaps that means that all the questions have
already been answered either by you or by other people.

They're a rather mixed bunch. You did mention that you hadn't been able to sort them out into
groups. In fact you hadn't seen them at all, or read them at all. I've been quite unable to sort them out
into groups because they're quite a miscellaneous bunch, but I have arranged them in some sort of
rough sequence which I hope will provide some element of continuity.

So the first question is:
What aspects of the movement as a whole do you find most
encouraging and why?

I wasn't quite sure what this question meant. I'm not quite sure what particular aspects were referred
to in the sense of asking whether I found say meditation the most encouraging aspect of the
movement or the fact that we were spreading, the most encouraging aspect of the movement; so I
therefore decided to take the question in a very general sense, and in a way answer it in my own way,
and I must say that for me over the years the most encouraging, not only encouraging aspect of the
movement, but even the most rewarding in a way is to see people, over the years - sometimes even
over the months - actually changing. I think probably this is the aspect of the movement, if one can
call it that which I have found most encouraging. Most encouraging in the sense that it means that I
begin to feel that my time has not been wasted! [Laughter] Because if one sees, say year after year,
that people are not changing, that they're remaining set in the same old ways, then that isn't very
encouraging, it isn't very rewarding. But I certainly see this - that people do change. Sometimes
quickly, sometimes slowly, but in one way or another they do change.

Sometimes of course I see it more clearly than others, because perhaps I haven't seen a certain person
for quite a number of months or even years, but when I do meet them after that interval, I see a very
great change has taken place and that is very very encouraging and very very rewarding, Sometimes
of course they write and tell me about the changes, dramatic and otherwise, taking place, and that is
no less encouraging, no less rewarding.

So I think this is what I would say. That it's seeing people change. Change of course, I need hardly
say, for the better, [Laughter] which is encouraging and rewarding.

Surata: Bhante, could I ask you a little subsidiary on that?

S: Indeed.

Surata: We were talking this morning about general points on Going for Refuge and things and I
think about three Mitras in my group were surprised to hear that you wanted to hear from them in
writing as regularly as possible. They'd actually been given to believe otherwise by Order members
in the not so recent past.

S: Well Order members are naturally concerned that I shouldn't be bothered unnecessarily, and
obviously I shouldn't be, but nonetheless I do like to hear from people personally. I still am able to
read all the letters I get, fortunately. Especially those I get from Order members and Mitras. I may
not be able to reply. You may not even get an acknowledgement, but everybody writing can be quite
sure that I do read their letter. I read it carefully. Sometimes I read it twice, and it is taken note of. So
I would like people to write to me if they possibly can. So let there be no doubt about that. Just
personal news. How you're getting on, what you're doing. If it does seem that some action is required
on the letter well obviously that will be taken, either by me directly or through the Order Office. But
yes I do like to hear from people.

This is a rather more complex question.
It seems that over the years, the term 'spiritually committed' has come
to be synonymous with 'Order member', and that spiritual hierarchy,
which most people subscribe to as a principle, has come to fall, loosely
speaking, into senior Order member, Order member, mitra, Friend.
This is understandable and generally reflects how things are. However,
is it desirable in the long run if in specific cases hierarchy becomes a
matter of form or habit, and not one of merit or genuine substance?
How do you see the correspondence between spiritual hierarchy and

I'm not quite sure what the latter part of the question means. Anyway I'll go into the question
generally. I think there is no doubt that there is such a thing as a spiritual hierarchy. If one thinks in
terms of change, if one thinks in terms of spiritual development, well obviously some will have
changed more than others and will, so to speak, occupy a higher place in the spiritual hierarchy, and,
as the questioner says, the arrangement for ordering of senior Order member, Order member, mitra,
Friend, generally reflects how things are. But there's an important point to be made here. That's the
general principle, but, as I think I've emphasised quite often in the past, one cannot claim, or cannot
insist, that you occupy a particular place in the spiritual hierarchy. You can understand, you can
accept, you can recognise, the principle of spiritual hierarchy, but you cannot, on that account or on
that basis, claim for yourself, a particular place in that hierarchy in relation to other people. This
introduces the question of communication. What I've said very often and what I'd like to repeat, or
what I'd like to stress, is, that when two people - that is to say people within the context of the
FWBO - meet, it should not be on a very decided basis of one being the superior and the other the
inferior, in the communication. It may be that one is spiritually more developed and the other less
spiritually developed. In fact that is quite likely to be the case, but that cannot be made the initial

basis of the communication. You must, as it were, come together with open minds, because it is quite
possible that one person, being an Order member, is in fact - at least in certain respects - not so
developed as another person being a mitra. So it cannot be taken as certain, it cannot be taken as
definite, when two people meet within the context of the FWBO, that one is decidedly the superior of
the other, and that the other is the inferior, to use those terms.

So when they come together they must come together in a spirit of quite open communication,
willing to discover, willing to learn, from one another, well who perhaps is the more experienced,
who is perhaps the less experienced. You don't need to insist upon that. If you genuinely
communicate with another person over a length of time, you will discover for yourselves where you
stand in this respect. There's no need for anyone to claim any particular position. The likelihood is of
course that, in the end, the Order member will be seen and recognised as spiritually more developed,
at least in some respects. But that recognition cannot be claimed as a right. It is something which
others have to discover in the course of their contact and communication with the Order member
concerned, or the mitra concerned in the case of a Friend. Or a senior and experienced Order member
in relation to an Order member, and so on. Is that point quite clear or has it been a source of
confusion in the past? [Pause]

You may go along to a Centre and you may see that an Order member is leading the Puja. Fair
enough, he's leading the Puja because he's an Order member, but it does not necessarily follow that
he is your spiritual superior. He may be. Perhaps you will be well advised to consider him so
provisionally [Laughter] but not absolutely, because you don't really know. You can only know in the
course of communication with him. When you begin to feel, well he's got an edge over you, he is
more experienced, he has got more insight. But it must come about in that way. Not by way of
someone claiming a certain position and insisting on others recognising that he has that position. So
that's quite clear?
I feel that I should have more confidence in, and act more upon, my
own thoughts and feelings when making decisions about my life or
when using and expressing my opinion, particularly when it's not the
general FWBO view or Order members' views. It seems to me that this
should be part of being an individual and being a Buddhist. Do you
think so? Is there advice in the scriptures or tradition or your own
work, to do this?

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