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Theris - Questions and Answers 2002

by Sangharakshita

Theris’ Question & Answer Session with Bhante Sangharakshita at Tiratanaloka

14th April 2002
Sangharakshita: I know these multipart questions!
Dhammadinna: I’ve always noticed when you get multi-part questions, that you go ‘Hmm’,
‘Hmm’ - you sort of clock each part.
S: Multi-part questions make me feel rather like a dictionary!
Dhammadinna: I’ve divided them into sections. The sections are: There’s a couple of more
personal ones, about personal practice, and then there are three questions on the Bodhisattva Ideal
because that’s one of the topics we’ve been discussing, there are two on meditation, three on
questions about the FWBO and the WBO practice and three on the FWBO, WBO and its
relationship to the world and other cultures.
S: Quite a wide variety.
Dhammadinna: We may not get through them all, though.
S: Let’s try.
Dhammadinna: So the first question has two parts, I’ll give you one part at a time. This is the
more personal one. This is from - it didn’t say, but I think it’s Vidyasri.
In recent years and months, do you find yourself drawn to any particular Buddha
or Bodhisattva figure?
S: In recent years or months, I don’t think I can say that I have found that. Because there are
various figures with whom I keep in particular touch depending on the initiations I received from
my Tibetan teachers. So among them there’s obviously Green Tara, there’s Manjughosa, there’s
Vajrasattva, these are the principal ones. So anyway, they all have their turn, you know.
Sometimes I give more attention to one, more attention to another, but I can’t say that during the
last months or years there’s any one figure to whom I’ve given more attention than I have to any
of the others.
Dhammadinna: So the second part of the question.
Likewise, as you get older, do you find yourself feeling closest to any particular
one of your teachers?
S: No, I can’t say that I do. [Laughter] There seem to be all sorts of expectations! No, but I can
also say that in the case of my Tibetan teachers I always associate them very closely with the
particular practices which they gave me, so that if for instance I’m doing the sadhana of
Manjughosa, I think at the same time of Jamyang Khyentse Rimpoche. I see him as Manjughosa,
or I see Manjughosa as him. In the same way if I do the White Tara practice, I think of Dhardo
Rimpoche, because it’s from him that I received that practice. And similarly with other teachers
and other practices. If I meditate on Amitabha I think of Dilgo Khyentse, if it’s Green Tara, well,
it’s Chetul Sangye Dorje, if it’s Vajrasattva it’s Dudjom Rimpoche. So for me the yidam and the
teacher from whom I received the practice are very closely connected. So when I think of the one
I think of the other. In a sense they’re inseparable. Perhaps I could say - this is a little extra
thought - that if I think particularly on Shakyamuni, the Buddha as we say, that’s you could say
more associated with Kashyapji, because it’s with him that I studied the Theravada Abhidhamma
in particular. So in that way these practices are very definitely associated with the teachers from
whom I received them. I think of both at the same time of practice, so to speak. I find it quite
impossible to think of the practice apart from the teacher who gave me the practice.
Dhammadinna: So those two questions do actually go together, more than we thought.
This is a question from Kalyanaprabha, which is:
In your interview for the recent Newsreel you spoke about faith in the Dharma -
‘It’s worked for me’. Have you any further thoughts on the topic of faith, what
best promotes it, and why there might be a lack of it in some Order Members’
lives or, at least, gaps in their experience?
S: It’s very difficult to generalise about Order Members. It’s very difficult to generalise about the
Order. I know that some people do this rather freely, sometimes with rather unfortunate results, in
the sense that they come to sometimes quite unfortunate and unjustified conclusions. I think we
mustn’t forget that the Order is made up of individuals, all of whom are practising in their own
way; they have of course various degrees of sraddha and sometimes sraddha does lapse or
weaken for a while. And different people are inspired by different things. I know some people,
some Order Members, feel more sraddha towards the Buddha personally, or towards their yidam,
some towards the Dharma, some towards the Sangha. But I think, coming back to the question,
that if one does have any lapse or weakening of sraddha, one of the most general reasons or most
common reasons for that is that one loses contact with other Order Members. Because other
people’s sraddha does rub off on you. So I think if you’re conscious of any fading away of
sraddha on your part or if you’re conscious of any weakening of your devotion to the Buddha,
Dharma, and Sangha, then I think it’s best to look at whether you are in sufficiently close and
regular contact with the rest of the Order. I don’t know if that fully or sufficiently answers the
question. People can ask supplementaries if they want to, of course. Who’s that?
Kalyanaprabha: I’m Kalyanaprabha.
S: Right, sorry. Couldn’t see you. There’s also the reading of devotional texts. But of course if
your sraddha is weak, very often the last thing you want to do is to read devotional texts because
they might sound sort of hollow and unreal. Perhaps one needs to get back into touch as they say
with one’s emotions generally, perhaps one could read inspiring poetry, perhaps that could help.
But I think the thing that helps most is to be in contact with other Order Members who have faith,
who have devotion, and who show that. It rubs off.
Dhammadinna: I’ve got three questions on the Bodhisattva Ideal. The first one is from Anoma.
I was very impressed by something you wrote a couple of years ago to a fellow
member of the ordination team. (And I quote): ‘I very much hope that all of you
are enjoying stillness, simplicity and contentment in full measure, even though
you are leading such busy lives. Not that inner calm and outward activity are
necessarily incompatible. If we allow ourselves to be inspired by the Bodhisattva
Ideal the dichotomy will be transcended.’ And this is Anoma: It’s easy to think
that in order to experience more stillness, simplicity and contentment one needs to
be less busy rather than allowing oneself to be inspired by the Bodhisattva Ideal.
Is it that in allowing ourselves to be so inspired we become more selfless and
therefore experience less conflict and more wholeheartedness? Could you say
more on this subject?
S: Well, yes, that’s what happens! It’s really quite simple. I’ll just say something which has some
bearing on this. Recently someone has been reading to me a little book of Dudjom Rimpoche’s
teachings. I don’t know if any of you have seen it, it’s called Counsels From the Heart. It’s quite
a small book and it’s translated - I think it’s translated, well originally from the Tibetan but
maybe even via the French - but there was one particular teaching he gave which did strike me
particularly. I’m not sure if I can remember the exact wording but I’ll try. He was talking about
the as it were conflict between what he called sunyata and practice, and he said that there were
two extremes. One was to lose the practice in sunyata and the other was to lose sunyata in the
practice. Now, he didn’t explain too much of what he meant but I’m going to have a go. You lose
the practice in sunyata when you think that ultimately there’s no distinction between skilful and
unskilful, they’re both void, they’re both sunyata. So this is the attitude of some Zen
practitioners, that in a sense practice doesn’t matter, ethics don’t matter, because in a sense ethics
is dualistic and sunyata transcends dualism. So if you allow sunyata to swallow up your ethics, as
some Zen practitioners in Japan appear to do, then that is one extreme. You mustn’t allow
sunyata to swallow up your ethics.

On the other hand, you mustn’t allow your practice, your ethics, to swallow up sunyata. You must
have the experience of sunyata at the back of your practice of the spiritual life, of ethics. You
mustn’t allow the one to be swallowed up by the other. So the Bodhisattva Ideal exemplifies that,
in a way. The Bodhisattva doesn’t allow his experience of sunyata to swallow up, say, his
practice of the paramitas. He continues to practise - sorry, she continues to practise - the
paramitas as it were on a dualistic basis, even though the inner realisation is one of sunyata. And
on the other, even though the inner realisation is one of sunyata, as an expression of that on the
relative or mundane level, the Bodhisattva practises ...

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