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An Interview with Five Clergymen

by Sangharakshita

The Venerable Sangharakshita

An Interview with Five Clergymen
At the London Buddhist Centre
Transcribers Note: The recording quality of these tapes is very poor and at times it
has been impossible (after many hearings) to get any idea of what is being said. Also
the microphone seems to have had an intermittent fault and was also too far away
from the speakers! I wish the reader success in their journey through this session!

__________: .... a course for clergy and we hope (unclear)

Sangharakshita: (unclear)

__________: That's right. Christopher Lawrence wrote to you, (unclear) sent you the course

S: So how has your course been going? You must be having an interesting time. Is it a sort of
renewal or refresher course or...

__________: It's called 'mid-service' and it's somewhere, not precisely mid-way through a

S: You can assume you have roughly forty years as clergy?

__________: Well [Laughter] It quite a bit of a review of where a clergyman's got to and each
writes a study of something that interests them before the course begins and then we spent last week
sharing that with one another and this week is really looking at our experience in the light of others
things that are going on, principally in the Greater London area, and next week we go away for a
residential week and look at the way in which the ministry might be mapped out for the future. So
that's why it's fascinating to come and meet you and....

S: Well I am about thirty five years through my course! [Laughter] But I don't see retirement ahead
of me in five years' time by any means. In fact I wouldn't want it to be.

__________: So that's when you first became involved.

S: I was ordained.

__________: You were ordained.

S: In 1941. Buddhist monks have two ordinations. You've got a lower ordination and a higher.
Sometimes one follows immediately after the other in some Buddhist countries. Strictly speaking
there should be (unclear). I suppose it corresponds a bit, though only a very little, to what you would
call (unclear).

__________: At what sort of age is that?

S: According to rule you cannot take the lower ordination before the age of seven, nor the higher
ordination before the age of twenty. In countries where Buddhism is established monks (unclear) are
ordained usually (unclear) in the monastery where the child lives nearby.

__________: (unclear)

S: No.

__________: You can resign.

S: Oh yes. No there's nothing like the (unclear), no nothing like that, and also no life long vows are
taken, in any case. One can be released from all his vows. Well one doesn't even have to ask. You
appear in front of a monk of higher standing and you simply renounce your vows as a monk and you
take from him the vows of a lay Buddhist. There's no elaborate procedure at all.

__________: Could you say what the vows of a monk are?

S: Well that isn't as simple as it might appear at first because of various historical developments, but
the backbone of what we call the Vinaya, the monastic code, is the list of 150 rules called thePratimoksa, which are observed wherever the original tradition of these monastic vows had
(unclear), that is to say especially South East Asia, Tibet, China to some extent, Japan not at all and
some other parts (unclear). For practical purposes in Japan the Pratimoksa's been replaced by what
they call the Bodhisattva Samvarasila, that is to say another list of, as it were, rules, developed under
the auspices of the Mahayana and taken by monks and lay people alike, in principle, but in practice
they are usually taken by those who function as what are generally called 'priests'. So it isn't quite
(unclear). In some Buddhist countries they sort of superimpose the Bodhisattva Samvarasila onto the
original monastic Pratimoksa.

__________: Are there different forms of Buddhism in different parts of the world?

S: Yes. There's roughly speaking South East Asian Buddhism, which is Theravada. There's
Mahayana which is mainly China, Japan, Vietnam, and there's also Tibetan Buddhism which is an
amalgam of the Mahayana and Hinayana. Broadly speaking that is the case.

__________: And you are from the Western Order?

S: Well our position in a way is a little peculiar because we're a sort of, in a way, modern
development but I hope we have developed along thoroughly traditional lines. We try to be simply
Buddhists, so to that extent we're ecumenical actually! We don't identify exclusively with any one
Buddhist tradition. That's not to say that we're eclectic because we don't believe in sort of intellectual
achievement, but we do recognise that there is a lot that has come down to us in the Buddhist
tradition which is very venerable but which doesn't really, well, speak to our conditioning. So we feel
free to put that politely to one side without pretending and to take on from the Buddhist traditions
and scriptures what we actually do find useful and helpful, and we feel that inasmuch as everything
that we take has some relation to our actual needs as spiritually developing human beings, that need
itself will impose a certain unity on the material that we select.

So the Order itself is not a monastic Order. In a sense it's a lay Order, but only in a sense. I won't go
into all the details but it is lay in the sense that it isn't technically monastic. At least celibacy isn't
required, although some members are celibate, and we also have both men and women members. In
some ways we try to go back to the roots of Buddhist tradition, where the distinction between the
monastic follower and the lay follower, so to speak, was not as sharp as it afterwards became.

__________: But poverty and living a common lifestyle.

S: Yes. We don't use the word poverty. It's not a very popular word [Laughter] but yes we try to
reduce our material needs. We do that as much as we can, and we do believe very much in the
community life. And we do have men's communities and women's communities and these are one of
the biggest features of our movement. For instance this is a men's community and there is the public
centre also underneath the men's community. At present it contains twenty men. There's another one
in Bow which contains four men (unclear). There's another one in Norfolk (unclear) and it's also a
retreat centre. So we have these communities both for women and for men. The women's
communities tend to be smaller. They tend to prefer a small, what they call more intimate, type of

__________: Can you say something about how you came to be a Buddhist, and can you say
something about what happens in the life of the community? On a practical level.

S: I'm afraid I became a Buddhist in a rather pedestrian sort of way, just as a result of reading,
because in those days, and this takes us back to the late thirties and early forties, there was hardly
any Buddhist activity, especially there was a very tiny Buddhist Society led by Christmas
Humphreys with which I afterwards became in contact but otherwise there was nothing. But I did
(unclear) Buddhist literature that was available in those days and this attracted me very very strongly.
I was interested in comparative religion anyway and yes I was interested in religion as such but
among all the books that I read, scriptures that I read, it was definitely Buddhism that appealed to me
most strongly. So I thought of myself as a Buddhist long before I met any other Buddhist, and it was
only after a couple of years, as it were, on my own as a Buddhist that I made contact with the
Buddhist Society. This must have been in 1942 or 43, and I was a few years in contact with them
then I went to India and I remained in India for twenty years, where I chose a wandering life, I was a
wandering monk for (unclear). (unclear) I eventually settled in Kalimpong in the Himalayas near
Tibet and I had a lot of contact there with Tibetans (unclear - tape quality or background noise
becomes worse)

You also asked about community life. Community life is connected with something else that we call
Right Livelihood. We are quite concerned about the application of ethical principles to one's
livelihood, so quite a few of our Friends in the communities, whether men and women, also work in
our co-ops. We have a number of co-op businesses. We have a number ...

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