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Auckland Questions and Answers - March 1979

by Sangharakshita

... persuading them to come. They are all there waiting on your doorstep
practically in their thousands. All we need is a few Order Members, It is as simple as that But one
person there, especially one person like Lokamitra, can do a lot of work, and he's totally dedicated to
the work, but we still hope we can get a few more Upasakas out there, and Upasikas too, perhaps, to
help him.

So just to come back to your original question - the prospects of the Order in India, especially in the
Maharashtra area, that is Western and Central India, seem very very favourable indeed and we hope
that the Order in India, both the English and Western members and the Indian members themselves
of the Order, can do a lot of work for the Dharma, and for all those people who have in their own
way take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Megha: What is the connection with conversion?

S: Well, originally, you know when Dr. Ambedkar, who was their leader, organised what he called
the Buddhist initiation, they understood by conversion, an explicit repudiation of Hinduism in the
first place and especially a repudiation of all discrimination between man and man, and particularly a
rejection, a repudiation of the system of hereditary caste under which they have suffered for
hundreds of years in a very grievous sort of way indeed. That was the negative side of it, and then
positively, there was what they thought of becoming Buddhists; so they took the refuges and precepts
- the five precepts - but it must be admitted that for many of them - and most of them, don't forget,
are illiterate, - it wasn't much more than a ceremony which gave them a lot of hope, but thereafter
they considered themselves not Hindus but Buddhists, And I found that if one got around to them -
and I did this quite a lot in the late fifties and early sixties - if one got around to them and explained
what it was really all about, they were very, very receptive: they really wanted to go for refuge, truly
and sincerely, but they didn't know what to do, they didn't know how to go about it, and there was no
one to instruct them because Dr. Ambedkar himself died quite suddenly only six weeks after that
original conversion ceremony in Nagpur, But it was still sort of rolling on and people were
proclaiming themselves as Buddhists, but without, frankly, knowing very much about Buddhism. So
I was getting around as much as I could in those days, simply explaining the meaning of what they
had done, and explaining what was expected of them - what it meant to go for refuge, what the
precepts meant how they had to change their lives, how they had to give up certain evil habits. There
was a lot of indebtedness in this community; there was a lot of drunkenness; so we were encouraging
them to give up those things, But then of course after a few years, I went off to England, so I wasn't
able to do any more work in India, and in any case there were certain difficulties which I need not go
into now. But now it seems easier than ever because lots of my old pupils are grown up. Those who
were boys in those days, and those who were college students are now in responsible positions, many
of them in local government service, and their economic position has improved slightly, and they are
still quite hungry and thirsty for the Dharma. No Dharma work has been done, practically, in
Maharashtra for the last twelve years, and as I said, our system seems really to appeal to them and
really suit them. So it's been taken up in Pune, thanks to Lokamitra and Padmavajra and we hope it
may be extended elsewhere throughout that vast region. But conversion originally for them meant

giving up this iniquitous social system, the caste system with that orthodox Hindu sanction, and just
getting free of that, making a new start as Buddhists.

But it is only comparatively recently that they have been really able to understand what it means to
be a Buddhist and to be able to put it into practice. This is where of course, our three Refuges and ten
precepts come in very beautifully, because they have already chanted and recited the three Refuges
and five precepts, They have, as it were, taken the provisional refuge, as I call it, or cultural refuge;
but we have to draw a line between that and real, conscious, aware, intelligent, spiritual commitment
- going for refuge. So those who are capable of that we ordain as members of the - we don't call it
Western Buddhist Order there; we call it Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha. You'll have to learn that
one, I'm afraid. And they are 'sila' Upasakas, ten-sila Upasakas and in that way distinguished from
the five sila, more or less nominal Upasakas, if you see what I mean, So this is just one of the ways
in which our system fits in there very well, If in England we had only taken five precepts, we would
have been in difficulties in India, because it would have been difficult to distinguish the old type of
more or less conventional upasaka just repeating precepts, from the real upasaka who really
understood what it meant to go for refuge. So within the larger community that is converted we are
building up the smaller spiritual community of Upasakas and Upasikas, who are committed, and who
truly 'Go for Refuge'; and they will leaven the whole lump, if I may call it so.

Judith. Bhante, are there no other Buddhists, I mean apart from......

S: Well, it's really extraordinary, there's hardly anybody, I mean, if these people had been converted
to Christianity, millions of pounds, millions of dollars would have poured in and you would have had
thousands of priests and nuns working. But they had become Buddhists and nothing happened.
Buddhist Asia apparently is quite apathetic. You get the odd monk straying in from Ceylon or you get
the odd Thai bhikkhu student at Pune university, occasionally he ventures along to a meeting and
gives the Precepts, but that is about all. People seem to find it difficult to work among these
Maharashtra Buddhists; and it is true; it is difficult. They are very sincere people, they are very loyal
people, but they are rather rough people, they are not very cultured people, they are a bit crude, Their
heart is in the right place, but their manners, it must be confessed, are rather unrefined. Some of our
Friends just don't like this, they can't operate in that sort of situation. And they aren't very much
hampered by Buddhist tradition, and very often the Bhikkhus who come from Southeast Asia are
rather strong on tradition and they expect to be treated just because they are wearing yellow robes,
exactly the way they are treated In their own countries, which is with tremendous respect. But these
new Indian Buddhists aren't like that - they take you as they find you; they are not all that impressed
simply by yellow robes. They have had all that in Hinduism and they are a bit fed up with it. So they
don't respect the Bhikkhus just because they are Bhikkhus, but only if they find they really know the
Dharma and can teach and help. So this some of the people from Southeast Asia don't like. And there
are various other reasons also. Some of the people from Southeast Asia have their own prejudices.
For instance I have known myself, in the old days, Bhikkhus from Ceylon not being too happy that
all these proletarian type people even poor people, had become Buddhists, as though the Buddhist
community was being a bit lowered by that. They wanted very respectable middleclass well-educated
people to become Buddhists, not poor people like this, so they tended to stay aloof from them, and
often the Buddhists from Southeast Asia, some of whom are functioning in India, are much too hide-
bound and rigid and not adaptable enough and not really understanding the Dharma deeply enough to
be able to cope with these sort of people, That is the sad truth. So it seems extraordinary that an
English Buddhist Movement should have had to intervene and try to help in this way, in however
small a way. But actually there is no one else, which is truly extraordinary.

Judith: It is quite poetic though, isn't it, coming back from the west?

S: Yes. Right, Also they trust us because we are not contaminated by the caste system and they are
very concerned about that, They trust western monks on the whole, just because they know we don't
have that sort of background of caste system and caste prejudice.

Dave R: What about the livelihood situation in Southeast Asia?

S: For whom?

Dave R: For Westerners?

S: That, I think on the whole, is out of the question. It is very, very difficult for Westerners to get
work in India, and in a way, quite rightly so. The Indians need the jobs themselves. So what we are
doing is, the Upasakas who are working in Pune among the ex-untouchables, certainly Buddhists are
being supported from England. We don't at this stage want to take anything from the Indians
themselves. There is tremendous generosity and hospitality and one is always being asked out for a
meal, and one can't refuse that. But we still send for each of the Upasakas a certain sum each month
which is contributed by all the centres. All the centres, or practically all the centres, in England, and I
believe this centre, contributes something ...

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