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Women-s Ordination Retreat - Questions and Answers February 1988

by Sangharakshita


Ordination Retreat for Kulasri and Kulaprabha, February 1988

Those Present: Anoma, Parami, Malini, Vidyasri, Vidyavati, Padmavati, Dayamegha, Kulasri,
Kulaprabha, Rosy Anderson, Rachel Lovering, Elaine Murray, Maggie Graeber

Sangharakshita: Anyway, we start off with a quite easy question, I think:
Is competitiveness antithetical to the Bodhicitta? We talk of healthy competitiveness,
but competition seems to be related to the power mode.

So I suppose the question really is: Is competition necessarily related to the power mode? We
know that very often it is, but when one is operating in accordance with the power mode what is
one actually trying to do? Any ideas?

Dayamegha: Forcing someone to do something against their will. Forcing them to do your will.

S: Yes. So are you always doing that when you compete? I'm thinking of sports: you want to
compete, the other person wants to compete. Supposing the other person loses, have you forced the
other person to lose, really? Why does the other person lose?

Parami: Because you're better.

S: You're better, yes! So I think in the case of sports, competitiveness is a means, or a method, if
you like, of getting the best out of all those involved. Of course, in a way you could say that the
urge to do better than others is perhaps not completely emotionally positive, but in the case of
competitive sports you are not trying to do better than others at all costs; you're not trying to win at
all costs, unless you cheat, and that's generally recognised as quite unsporting, isn't it? So if you're
competing with someone in a competitive sport, in a way you are helping each other to do your
best. You are helping each other to test how much he or she is capable of, and I think the best
sportsmen and sportswomen in a sense don't mind who wins; the important thing is that you should
do your very best, you should give of your best, you should stretch yourself to the uttermost. But
you are probably psychologically more likely to do that if you are pitting yourself against another
person or persons. Not just, say, running or whatever it is on your own. But clearly, this can get out
of hand, because we know that people engaging in competitive sports can sometimes cheat; they
can cheat by taking drugs, for instance, or they can cheat by fouling.

But it does seem to me that competition is not necessarily related to the power mode. You may
have a competition with someone who can give most. Do you see what I mean?

So I think, especially in view of the fact that human beings seem to be naturally competitive,
competitive sports and games and things of that sort are a way of channelling that competitive
instinct in a healthier way than it might otherwise adopt. War is essentially competitive, isn't it, in
the purely negative sense? It's better to play football than to fight - though unfortunately playing
football does sometimes turn into fighting.
So I don't think competitiveness is completely antithetical to the Bodhicitta, taking the Bodhicitta
as representing the love mode. I think it helps in making that transition from the pure power mode
to the pure love mode. I don't think it is very expressive of the love mode; I think it's a transitional
sort of thing. It tames your cruder instincts, or helps to tame them.

Anyone got any thoughts on this, other than contained in the question?

Rosy: To phrase it a bit differently, then: could you say that if you are creating a love mode, there
can be an element of competition still?

S: I suppose you can compete as to who can love somebody more.

Rosy: Can you?

S: I suppose so! [Laughter] Depends, of course, again what you mean by love: how do you show
that? I think probably if you were very much imbued with the love mode you wouldn't think in
terms of competitiveness, eh? - not even in a refined way. If two people were feeling love towards
a third person, if it was deep and genuine, they wouldn't think in terms of whether they were loving
more than the other person or not. Parents wouldn't normally compete between themselves as to
who could love the children more, they wouldn't usually think in those terms, I imagine.

Kulaprabha: If you really think in terms of competitiveness for its own sake, if you're ....., might
you think in terms of using it as a skilful means?

S: In what way?

Kulaprabha: Well, if you were meeting with and spend time with someone who was still working
in the power mode, and you wanted to try and help their transition to the -

S: Yes, you could certainly do that. Whether by engaging in sports or in some other way; or even
saying, 'Let's see who can meditate longest today' - it might be a very skilful means of getting them
to just sit there. They might get so absorbed in the meditation they forget all about the competition.
That would mean that you really had succeeded, or that your skilful means had succeeded. One
sometimes adopts that technique with children, doesn't one? I'll give a penny - oh, it's not a penny
any longer - I'll give five pounds to whoever does such-and-such first.

Parami: Do you think - I don't know whether the questioner was - in phrasing the question
originally as 'competition being antithetical to the Bodhicitta', I wonder if the questioner is thinking
of it in terms of co- operation being a preparation for the Bodhicitta. And that competition and co-
operation seem to be polar ends.

S: There is an element of co-operation in competition, isn't there? Because, first of all, you agree
on the game, in the case of games and sports, and you agree on the rules. You agree to abide by the
umpire or referee's decision. So you can't compete in that way without at the same time co-

Parami: I wonder if that's maybe the difference between negative unhealthy competition, and
something which can be more skilful and more healthy?

S: I think probably the main difference is that in healthy competition the competitiveness is not an
end in itself; you're not just out to do better than the other person, but under certain conditions or
for a certain purpose. Because if you were just out to beat him or beat her, well you'd just break all
the rules if necessary in order to do that. Then that becomes more like warfare, doesn't it? - just
trying to do the other person down at all costs, in a barbaric sort of way. So I think we can say that
competitiveness has a strong element of the power mode, it has its roots, it has its origin in the

power mode, but it can be tamed. It can be developed into a sort of healthy competitiveness for the
sake of mutual development, and it can lead to an experience of the love mode - by which time, of
course, it will have been superseded.

Vidyavati: Just thinking back to my cricketing days -

S: Which days?

Vidyavati: Cricket. (Loud laughter.)

S: Let's hear this!

Vidyavati: I was just thinking in a game like that, you're often out there playing in a team, but
you're extending yourself if you're going out to bat you're actually trying to extend your last,
highest batting score or whatever, and that's quite good, because you're extending yourself within -
competing -

S: And you extend others too at the same time. They have to extend themselves to keep up with or
even surpass you. So as a result of competition everybody does better. They are more themselves,
one could say. This is how the ancient Greeks looked at it. That's why the Greeks, for instance, in
their games, never had valuable prizes, they never had cash prizes, it was just a garland of leaves.

Vidyasri: But it's interesting, because last week we were studying in the Mitra study group your
lecture on the Wheel of Life, and you mention in that that in the asura realm, which is characterised
by competition, there are very few Buddha seeds.

S: Well, it's not just characterised by competition - it's mutual aggressiveness, isn't it? And
business competition can become like that: one firm tries to do down another, even by using
dishonest or unethical methods.

Vidyasri: Right - so that's more the mutual aggressiveness.

S: Oh yes, yes. I think the asuras - using them as a symbol - are competitive in a purely negative
way. I don't think asuras have any sporting instincts or any sense of fair play. Is it a practical
issue, this issue of competitiveness?

Rosy: Yes, I suppose it is. It feels like -

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