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Pre - Ordination Course for Women - Questions and Answers September 1988

by Sangharakshita

... sort of job: different jobs bring out different qualities, I suppose. I am rather
doubtful about this whole theory, though it's fathered on me in the past, whether worldly experience
does prepare one - in what sense worldly experience prepares one - for embarking on a spiritual
life. If you are going to be helping to run a public Centre, perhaps it is helpful to know the sort of
background people come from, the sort of lives they are leading. But supposing you are going
straight into a Retreat Centre: is it helpful to have had some worldly experience? Does it help, say,
to have been married, and experienced divorce, or to have brought up children, or to have held
down a demanding job? Does that really help one in the spiritual life? Perhaps it differs from one
person to another. But I am very doubtful if it can be assumed that that sort of worldly experience,
and even in a sense maturity, is a necessary preparation for spiritual life. I think there are at least
some people, whether male or female, who can bypass that and go straight into the spiritual life; a
lot of people seem to have been damaged by their worldly experience rather than anything else. So
I think it is very difficult to generalise. I think one needs to take a good look at the person
concerned. They may need to work; they may need to hold down a job, but perhaps, if they are
young, they had best do it within the context, say, of a co-op, where they get spiritual support at the
same time.

Vidyasri: It often seems to help people gain confidence to have done something in that way - have
had a job, or a child.

S: But that still raises the question whether that is sort of confidence that one needs in the spiritual
life, or is confidence a sort of common quality, a general psychological quality, that can be applied
to worldly life and spiritual life alike?

__________: I don't know whether this is quite the same context, but I remember at Padmavati's
and Vidyavati's ordination that you did say something about they had been successful in their fields
and you seemed to think that was an advantage, that they had done - but maybe that was more that
they'd done that, got ....

S: Yes, I think perhaps then I was thinking more in terms of, as it were, unsatisfied ambition. One
might embark on the spiritual life and still have a sort of hankering after some kind of worldly
success; so that, if one has had a successful career, in a sense one has got that out of the way, and
one can then get on with one's spiritual life without thinking you have missed out on worldly
things. But even if you had missed out on them, perhaps it wouldn't, in the long run, if you really
were sincere and enthusiastic, have made very much difference? Again, I think one needs to take a
look at the individual and see what is good for her or for him.


Also it could be that, in the case of the FWBO, the FWBO itself provides a sort of framework for
the young person within which she or he can develop the sort of qualities that the questioner has in
mind. A Mitra can be helping, say, in the Centre office, or supporting a member of the Centre team;
in that way developing these sort of qualities. Because, if you go into some areas of work in the
world, you may acquire a certain experience, but - as I also said - you can be damaged in the
process. You may be left with something you need to sort out in the course of your spiritual life,
depending on the nature of the work that you were doing. Ten or fifteen years of the rat race might
leave you with some worldly experience, but would you really be any better for it from the spiritual
point of view, or better prepared? It is very difficult to say. Suppose you spent ten years in
advertising or computers; very often people have to undo the effects of their worldly experience.
Not in all cases, perhaps.

So I think it is very difficult to generalise here. I don't think it is a simple matter of "Let the young
person have four, five, ten, fifteen years of worldly experience; that will make them really mature
and experienced, and then they will be ready for the spiritual life, or more ready.' I don't think - at
least, I am doubtful - whether it really works like that.

Vidyasri: So when, like for some of us, it has taken us some years to reach the point of being
ordained, that then not because of not having enough worldly experience; it's because of, maybe,
not having enough of other things?

S: Or perhaps, in some cases, psychological difficulties. I think if a really bright young woman
came along who was sincere and enthusiastic about practising the Dharma, I think it would be
rather a shame to send her back into the world to have all the shine rubbed off her, and then think
she would be more prepared or ready for the spiritual life. I think there should be room in the
Movement for at least a few young people who haven't been spoiled by the world, as it were, and
who could live their whole life within the framework of the Movement. I think there is beginning
to be a sufficient variety of work to provide them with all the, let's say, practical experience, as
distinct from worldly experience, that they need. Or by 'worldly experience' do you mean learning
to cheat, and learning to lie and manipulate people? Is all that included in it? Most people would
think it was, because that's the way one usually gets by. So perhaps it would be nice to have a few
people around who have never been stained in that way. Perhaps some people just don't need that
sort of experience, can dispense with it. So I would say just take a good look at this sincere and
enthusiastic young woman when she does come along, and just try, without assumptions or
presuppositions, to see what is really good for her: whether she really does need to go and get a job
and gather worldly experience in that sort of way.

Vidyasri: In the seminar on the Karaniya Metta Sutta, where there are the lines in the Metta Sutta
that begin by saying "You must be able and upright'. I think I remember you saying, in terms of
'able', that one needs to be capable and have a certain amount of confidence in doing things, and
working with the world.

S: Well, I think I did make those remarks quite a few years ago, when we had a lot of people from
the alternative movement, and who seemed to get into spiritual life - or their idea of it - because of
an incapacity to function in the world; thinking the spiritual life was the easy option. I think I was
concerned to combat that; because actually that is the more difficult option, as everybody knows.

So, in order to succeed in the spiritual life, one must at least have the sort of capacity that would
have enabled you to succeed in the world had you chosen so to do; but that doesn't necessarily

mean that you need to succeed in the world in order to prepare yourself for leading a spiritual life.
But you must certainly have that sort of capacity, and not be opting for the spiritual life as though it
was a sort of soft option, as though it was an easier way, a way of avoiding difficulty and effort, and
all that sort of thing. But have you been getting young women of this sort along, and have you been
wondering what sort of advice to give them - anybody?

Sanghadevi: Well, I asked that question. There are three people at the moment. I don't know
them well enough to actually say where they are in relation to ordination, but they are certainly
young, bright, inspired, wholehearted, enthusiastic, quite - well, ....

S: Well, it seems a pity to send them out to be shorthand-typists or what have you.

Sanghadevi: Well, I haven't sent them out. They are embarking on getting jobs.

S: Maybe one could try to find a place for them in a co-op or something of that sort. We need
more co-ops, don't we, of many different kinds? In Croydon they have been able to take quite
young men, teenagers, even, into Hockneys, so there has been that possibility there; and in some
cases, at least, that seems to have worked very well. Anyway, let's leave that. I don't think I can
give a very definite answer, but perhaps we have just ventilated the question a bit.
In the talk entitled "The Next 20 Years,' given at our WBO celebrations this year, you
said you thought we could bypass the Christian tradition and go back to the Greco-
Roman tradition in order to help us find parallels to Buddhist thought in our own
past, and to help us feel Buddhism isn't so foreign. I am not clear whether you were
suggesting that the culture and arts that have developed since the Christian era in
the West are not so helpful to us as the Greco-Roman cultural tradition, and that we
would be better off studying this early literature etc. Please elaborate on this part of
your ...

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