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Dhanakosa Opening 1993 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita



Held on 20th March 1993
Jinavamsa: Bhante has a list of questions and he's going to answer them in his own time.

Sangharakshita: And in his own way [Laughter] I don't think I'm going to be able to deal with all.
Some of them are a wee bit, as it were, technical and in any case I don't think I can do justice to them
all in the time that we have. But I'll do my best. I think it's important to go perhaps a little more
thoroughly into a few questions than to deal superficially with a lot.

I'm not quite sure where to start, they're a rather mixed bunch. I suppose that means you're a rather
mixed bunch. [Laughter] Let me start off with something rather general. Yes, here we are. We can
hardly have something more general than this question.
"You will recall the story of the Indian monk who when asked by the Emperor of China, 'What
is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?' " is said to have replied, 'Ceasing to do evil,
learning to do good, purifying the heart. This is the fundamental principle of Buddhism'.
What would your own answer be if a Western leader was to ask you the same question today
and do you think that a modern leader would find your response so simple that even a child
of three could understand it and that you would feel that even an old man of eighty could not
put it into practice?"

Because this is what you may remember, Bodhidharma - I think it was Bodhidharma or the Indian
monk whoever it was - replied to the Emperor when the Emperor said, 'Well, even a child of three
can understand this', and the Indian monk said, 'Well, even an old man of eighty, like you can't fully
put it into practice'. So "What would your own answer be if a Western leader were to ask you the
same question today?" I think it's highly unlikely that a Western leader [Laughter] would ask me.
But if he were to ask me I don't think I'd have much difficulty in giving him that kind of reply. It's
not really so difficult. I think that if I was asked what the fundamental principle of Buddhism was,
and bearing in mind of course conditions in the world today, I think I could give it to him in one
word. I think I'd just say "Non-violence". I think so. There is a Buddhist text, the Mahavastu, in
which the Buddha is represented as saying "ahimsa paramo dharma". "Ahimsa", 'non-violence' "is
the highest dharma" which can mean principle, religious principle, truth, practice or whatever. I
think the application of this is obvious.

If any Western leader or even Eastern leader for that matter was to take this really to heart, this
principle of non-violence, it would make a very great deal of difference to the world. But the
implications are really quite profound and far-reaching. I don't mean just the practical implications
but even the theoretical implications because why do we practice violence? Why are we violent?
Why are we violent towards others because it's usually towards others, towards other people, that we
are violent. We can of course be violent to the environment but that's, one might say, almost in a
manner of speaking. Usually we are violent to other people. We injure other people. We harm
other people. We destroy other people. We undermine other people. This is what very often we do.
This is what violence is. This is what 'himsa' is. We afflict others. We inflict things on them. But
do we like this to be done to us? Do we like to be at the receiving end of the violence? Well, we don't
do we? We don't like it at all. We object very strongly. So if ourselves objecting to violence when

directed towards ourselves are violent towards others, well, what does that mean, what does that
imply? What sort of lack in us? Well, it means we can't empathise with others. It means we lack

So in order to practice non-violence you've got to have imagination. You've got to have enough
imagination to put yourself in the place of the other person. So the world leader or Western leader,
whoever he was, if he did accept that this was the fundamental principle of Buddhism, and if he was
impressed by that or inspired by that, he'd have to develop his imagination. He'd have to encourage
his people, his country to develop their imaginations and place themselves in the position of others
because you can't really practice non-violence without that, you can't practice it, as it were, cold.
You have to practice it as the outcome, as the expression of your feeling of empathy with other
people. You feel for them, you feel with them so therefore you cannot do to them what you would
not like done to you in that way.

But this implies something else. It also implies, one might say, sensitivity because you've got to be
sensitive yourself. You've got to be sensitive to suffering yourself. You've got to be aware of your
own suffering. Not just crude physical suffering but more subtle, perhaps mental, perhaps emotional,
perhaps psychological suffering. If you're not, so to speak, in touch with your own suffering,
sensitive to your own suffering, you won't be able to sufficiently empathise with the other person, to
be able to practice non-violence towards them.

So this one word "ahimsa", "non-violence" has all sorts of applications. All sorts of implications. So
if I was asked by some Western leader this particular question and if I said, "Well, the fundamental
principle of Buddhism is non-violence" I'd also be saying the fundamental principle of Buddhism is
imagination. The fundamental principle is Buddhism is empathy. The fundamental principle of
Buddhism is emotional sensitivity. If you had all these things, well, you've a very great deal and this
I would say really amounts to the fundamental principle of Buddhism at least, so far as that is
applicable to large numbers of people in our world today. I wouldn't say anything about karma. I
wouldn't say anything about anatta. Certainly wouldn't say anything about sunyata. I'd certainly
speak of non-violence. So perhaps that serves to get us a bit started. (Pause)

Something else rather practical. This question comes at the end of a letter. I won't read to you all the
letter. Well, I might have to. [Laughter] Perhaps I will. The letter is interesting and the question
does come right at the end of the letter. "Dear Bhante. I'm on the verge of giving up my job. I have
been in this particular job for the last eighteen years and it is fairly well paid but now I feel the need
to stop". Maybe I'll skip the more autobiographical bit. "I may add I did have a tantalising taste of
Team Based Right Livelihood ... Continuing to explore possibilities in this area. But in the
meantime I don't think that working in the world, so to speak, is the best way for my Going for
Refuge, to develop, grow and flourish". So here comes the question. "What I would like to hear,
Bhante, is your views on this subject, 'working in the world' or positively creating lots of time to
study, meditate, develop friendships and the time to pursue other activities beneficial for going
forth?" So, "working in the world", yes.

Quite a long time ago, I think in the very early days of the movement, I used to encourage people to
give up their full time jobs. This is twenty-five years ago and, well, recently, sometimes people have
wondered, well whether that the only alternative? Well, one has to remember that in those very early
days of the FWBO, options were very limited. There was, in those days, no such thing as Team
Based Right Livelihood. I don't think we had a Team Based Right Livelihood business or co-op as
we used to call it until the movement had been functioning, had been active, for about seven or eight

years and it took us a long time to find out, well, just how Team Based Right Livelihood businesses
should be run, and we're still finding out. So in those days, in the very early days of the movement
there were really only two possibilities for people. One was just to stay with their full-time job
which wasn't always of a very ethical nature, just getting along to what classes they could and going
on the occasional retreat or just to go on the dole. And I did encourage some of the younger people
who didn't have responsibilities just to go on the dole and devote themselves to Dharmic work. But
the situation is rather different now. Now, if someone became disillusioned with working in the
world and if it was a practical possibility, I'd advise them to take up, I'd advise them to start or join a
Team ...

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