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London Buddhist Centre - Questions and Answers 1990

by Sangharakshita

THE VENERABLE SANGHARAKSHITA
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
with the EAST LONDON REGION
of the WESTERN BUDDHIST ORDER
at the London Buddhist Centre
*****************************
Session One - 20 May 1990*****************************
Sangharakshita: Everybody can hear me, and also see me? All right, then, we'll begin. Not too
many people have sent in questions, but I think we have enough for a reasonably good start.
The first question is one that I was going to raise and answer myself anyway, but I am glad
that at least one person had perhaps I shouldn't say it, but I'll say it! the intelligence to raise it,
anyway. It is a question that, logically, does come right at the beginning. The question is:
What is the purpose of these question and answer sessions? (Laughter.)
I think, though, really, the question is wider than that what is the purpose of having the Puja
together, the meditation together, and then, yes, the question and answer sessions? I think one
can say that there are two answers to that question. I think the first answer, the real answer, is
that there is no purpose to them at all.
There doesn't have to be a purpose. It's a bit like the chapter meetings themselves: you come
together just for the sake of coming together, so as Order members people meditate for the
sake of meditating together; they do Sevenfold Puja and other pujas for the sake of doing
Pujas together; and, in the same way, I suppose, in the same spirit, we have these question
and answer meetings. There isn't, in a sense, a purpose outside what we actually have or what
we actually do itself.
That is, as I said, the real answer, but I'll give you an easier answer. From my point of view,
the purpose of the question and answer sessions especially is so that I can get some sort of
idea about where people are at with regard to the Dharma, their level of Dharma knowledge,
the sort of dharmic [2] questions they are considering or giving thought to nowadays. And no
doubt that will be revealed by at least some of the questions.
So that is the first of these questions dealt with. Incidentally, perhaps I should make one or
two more remarks on this whole question of the questions. I would prefer that the questions,
over the next few weeks, were of a predominantly dharmic character. Let's try to get, as it
were, a bit more deeply into things than perhaps we usually do. And please submit them to
me in writing, to reach me not later than midday on the Sunday on which we have the actual
session. This will give you an opportunity, if you have to put them in writing, of giving them
some serious thought. Another thing which occurred to me was (this does sometimes
happen): don't ask me purely factual questions, that is to say the sort of questions you ought to
be able to look up in the Buddhist Encyclopedia or in some textbook; in other words, don't
expect me to do your homework for you, because that's not the best way of teaching. Also, I
may not always deal with a question which I have received that week on that particular
Sunday session; I may keep it for a bit later on, when perhaps there are a few more questions
on that same theme, which I can deal with all at the same time.
Perhaps that is about as much as I need to say on that at present. So we come on to the next
three questions from the same person, who is, incidentally he has signed his name, so I can
tell you Ratnaghosa. The second question from him is:
Do you think Order members in the LBC region are questioning your teachings?
This raises all sorts of questions, in my mind at least. First of all, when one says 'Order
members', does one mean all or does one mean some, or certain? 'LBC region,' I suppose, is
clear enough; and then (I'll come to 'questioning' in a minute) what does one mean by
'teachings'? Is one referring to all my teachings? Because, if I look back over the last 40 years,
I have written quite a few books; there are my teachings in the Survey, teachings in The Three
Jewels, teachings in all sorts of other writings, longer and shorter; and then, of course, there
are the teachings in all those lectures some of them I've forgotten myself! and there are
teachings in all those seminars which people have been urged to transcribe and edit and
publish, and quite a few of which are in circulation in unedited form. So there is quite a body
of teachings here. So I wonder, if there is any questioning going on, which particular
teachings are being questioned, or whether perhaps all of them are being questioned: I don't
know. There are teachings about sunyata, teachings about nirvana, teachings about
meditation; there is teaching about the three laksanas or the positive nidanas; there are
teachings about all sorts of sutras White Lotus Sutra, Vimalakirti Nirdesa. So there are all
these teachings; there is quite a vast body of them.
So I think, when Order members raise this sort of question, one has to be clear what exactly
one is questioning in the first place. Also I think one has to be aware that all these different
teachings of mine, though given at different times and in different places, do hang together,
so that you have to be careful when you question one of them that you are not, by implication,
questioning others which in fact you, as far as you know, don't question; because in that way
you can land yourself in inconsistencies and even in logical contradictions and dialectical
difficulties, and all that sort of thing. So it isn't so easy to raise this topic of questioning my
teachings, because one has to be clear about what those teachings are in the first place and [3]
what exactly among them if it isn't all of them one is actually questioning. And, of course,
one has to be very clear about why one is questioning, and, of course, what one's questioning
means.
Let's go into that for a moment, this question of questioning: what does one mean by
'questioning'? I know from Shabda that there has been a bit of talk, a bit of discussion, about
questioning, but I wonder if anybody looked the word up in the dictionary, just to make quite
sure that everybody was talking about the same thing or had a clear idea of what was meant
by 'questioning'. Just as a precaution, I looked up the dictionary myself, and I find that there
are three main dictionary meanings of the verb 'to question'. ('Question', of course, is also a
noun, but we are concerned with it here more as a verb.)
First of all, the dictionary says: 'to put a question or questions', and, earlier on, ' question' as a
noun has been defined as 'a form of words addressed to a person in order to elicit information
or evoke a response.' So: to put a question or questions, a question being a form of words
addressed to a person in order to elicit information or evoke a response. Then the second
meaning of the verb 'to question': 'to make something a subject of dispute or disagreement.'
And then, thirdly: 'to express uncertainty about the validity, truth etc. of something; Doubt.'
So, when one is speaking of questioning my teachings, or the teachings of the Buddha, or
anybody's teachings, in which of these senses is one using this verb 'to question'? Well,
obviously it is quite in order to put a question, the purpose of the question being to elicit
information. This is questioning in the sense of seeking clarification. (There is a further
question, which I'll come to in a minute, about the desirability or otherwise of so doing.) But
then what about 'to make something the subject of dispute or disagreement'? Well,
presumably one doesn't want particularly to do that; but, on the other hand, 'to express
uncertainty about the validity, truth etc. of something; to doubt' well, if one does actually feel
uncertainty about the validity, the truth, of any aspect not only of my teachings but of those of
Buddhism itself, clearly one must express that. If one has doubt in this sense one must
express that.
But at the same time, I think one needs to be quite careful here, because we do know that
there is such a thing as reactivity, and sometimes a particular teaching it may be mine, it may
be the Buddha's, it may be almost anybody's happens to touch a nerve, some rather sensitive
spot; so there comes a little reaction. Sometimes it is a big reaction, sometimes a very big
reaction, sometimes a strong reaction. So I think one has to be very careful of that; one has to
watch that in this process of questioning.
So one can see, just from these few remarks of mine, that this second question of
Ratnaghosa's 'Do you think Order members in the LBC region are questioning your
teachings?' implies quite a bit more than one might have thought at first [4] sight. In this
connection, I must say that recently I have been a bit surprised to find that a few Order
members at least haven't yet got around to reading my Survey. I know it was written quite a
long time ago, but I haven't actually disowned any part of it, though I may have elaborated
and even modified. So I think there can't really be any question of questioning, in any of the
senses I've mentioned, unless one is acquainted, among other things, with that particular text.
But let me go on to part 2 of this second question (the second question being 'Do you think
Order members in the LBC region are questioning your teachings?') This second point is:
If so, is this a good or bad thing, in your view?
Well, I think probably that question has been answered; because it ...

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