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Bodhisattva Ideal - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1984 Part 1 - Unchecked

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

TUSCANY 1984. Questions and answers on the BODHISATTVA IDEAL.
Those present:
Ven. Sangharakshita, Vessantara, Devamitra, Susiddhi, Prasanasiddhi, Sarvamitra,
Kamalasila, Padmavajra, Lalitavajra, Dipankara, Abhaya, Dave Living, Phil Miller, Geoff McMahon,
Phil Shann, Steve Webster, Pete Dobson, Will Spens, Ric Cooney, Greg Shanks, Jonathan Brazier,
Mark McLelland, Wade McKee, Simon Turnbull, Antonio Perez, Mike Shaw.
SESSION I.
Vessantara:
The first set of questions arise out of the fact that in that first lecture you tell the story
of the Parinirvana. And firstly Abhaya has a question connected with the Parinirvana.
Abhaya: Yes. It seems from the way the Bodhisattva Ideal is ex- pounded that one difference between
a Buddha and a Bodhisattva is that the Bodhisattva, unlike the Buddha, deliberately does not attain
Parinirvana until, so to speak, samsara is empty. I've often wondered how the Mahayana justifies, so to
speak, the Buddha's Parinirvana. Do you understand what I mean?
S.:
Well, in a way, the question is answered in the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra, where the Buddha
- the Buddha of the Mahayana at least, says very clearly that his Parinirvana is only a skilful means,
which suggest or would imply that the Mahayana at least doesn't understand the Parinirvana of what
we would regard as the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, as being literally a Parinirvana in the sense
that the Hinayana would understand it to be such.
Another point, of course, that arises is that it is very doubtful whether one really can
distinguish say the 'Buddha' (single inverted commas) and the 'Bodhisattva' (single inverted commas)
as two distinct personalitias. There are some schools of thought that do maintain that what we think of
as, say, a Bodhisattva is that aspect of a Buddha which, at the time of his 'Parinirvana' (single inverted
commas) does not, in fact, enter into Parinirvana. This is why it is said, in a more exoteric way, that
the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara functions in the interregnum between the disappearance of
Shakyamuni and the appear- ance of Maitreya. But it is not that it is really the appearance on the scene
of a separate or distinct personality. But it is rather that aspect, so to speak, of the personality, or being,
to use an un- Buddhistic term, of Shakyamuni Buddha which does not, so to speak,
-1-
2disappear into Parinirvana.
So these sort of considerations would suggest that one can't discuss the whole subject in too
literal a manner.
Vessantara:
Will had a couple of questions relating to the Maha Parinibbana Sutta.
Will Spens:
In the Maha Parinibbana Sutta
The first question, well first part of the question is -
what is the significance of Ananda's request? Ananda has a chance to request that the Buddha should
stay up to the end of the Kalpa, but he doesn't do so. And the second part of the question is - why
should it be necessary for A~nanda to make such a request?
S.:
Tradition is a bit divided on this question. According to some accounts, or according to some
interpretations, the expression 'the end of the kalpa', or 'end of the kalpa' in this context refers to the
end of the normal span of human life - that span being taken to be a hundred years. But according to
another school of thought 'kalpa' or 'kappa' here means an aeon in the cosmic sense. But, in principle,
the question is the same. It has often been asked, first of all, why did Ananda fail to ask the Buddha to
stay on for whatever length of time and, secondly, why the Buddha needed to be asked.
But to deal with the second question first. It seems to me that the only way in which one can
make sense of the passage - and many people have tried to make sense of it - is by assuming that in the
Buddha the will to live was so completely extinct that the Buddha couldn't even think in terms of
continuing to live himself except at the definite, specific prompting of some other human being, some
other living being. As if to suggest that there had to be a real objective need for him to stay on to
which he could respond. But that so far as he personally, so to speak, was concerned there was
absolutely no question of his having any reason or any motive to continue.
As for why Ananda didn't see what was needed and ask, well, the sutta, you may remember,
does say that he was misled by Mara. One can understand that in several ways. But it is clear from the
Pali text generally that Ananda was not an arahant, he was only a Stream-entrant, and one can only
assume that there was some lacking, some deficiency of wisdom or understanding or insight in Ananda
which caused him not to be able to see what was wanted, not to be able to take the very broad hint
which, according to the text, the Buddha did give on that occasion.
-2-
3I think one finds, or at least, sometimes finds in the Pali texts, inciden~s for which, reading
them as they are recounted in the texts themselves, there is no completely satisfactory explanation at
which we can arrive. And this is perhaps one of them - We have to make the best we can of the text.
Make as much sense of it as we can and leave it as that - at that, awaiting perhaps, you know, further
light on the subject from sources which at present are not at our disposal. Say, some alternative version
of that episode in some other version of the text which has not yet come to light. Maybe there is such a
version in Sogdien or some other such language into which Buddhist texts were translated in ancient
time and which are being discovered in the sands of Central Asia. That is always possible.
But I think the main point that emerges here is the Buddha's absolute, (well) inability one
might say, to think in terms of personal survival.
Will Spens:
Do you think there might be ... is there a parallel between that and Brahma
Sahampatti's request?
S.:
One could very well say that. The Buddha had no, as it were, egoistic desire to preach.
Though again, of course, one could say that in the case of Brahma Sahampatti this interpretation has
been put forward - that Brahma Sahampatti here represents a sort of movement, you know, within the
Buddha's own mind, on a certain level. One could look at it in that way.
But looking at Brahma Sahampatti as a separate and distinct person- ality, very much like
Ananda but on another level, one could there very well interpret the incident as signifying that the
Buddha had no self- interest, so to speak, no egoistic desire to preach, and had, so to speak, to be
prompted from outside and know that there was a real objective need for him to preach, because he had
no subjective need to preach, and that objective need was manifest in the person of Brahma
Sahampatti.
Kamalasila:
It seems strange~ though that somebody like the Buddha should not see the objective
need. (Two unclear comments.)
S.:
But here again, you see, we come to this question, which I touched on before, of separate and
distinct personalities. Well, perhaps~one could regard Brahma Sahampatti as being that aspect of the
Buddha's own personality.
-3-
But again, as I've said on other occasions, one shouldn't perhaps think of the Enlightenment
as occur(1ng at some particular point instant in time. Perhaps one should think of it more in terms of a
process which covered several days or even, perhaps, several weeks, and which took time to unfold
itself.
To begin with the Buddha was, so to speak, completely immersed in the experience of
Enlightenment and that relative existence was, so to speak, completely blotted out and it was only
gradually as he, as it were, from one point of view, emerged from that experience, and, from another
point of view, as that experience itself broadened out, he be- came aware, in a manner of speaking, of
that so-called objective need, which wouldn't have been objective in our sense, to preach the Dharma.
Kamalasila:
But that later episode, that later incident was at the end of the Budd}A's life
(unclear)
actually gone throu~h that process.
S.:
Well, he had done his work, so to speak. There was no need for him to do anything more, one
might say. Ant that is perhaps why the Mahayana regards the Parinirv~&na itself as a skilful means.
What he had to do then was to di~. That was the most skilful thing he could do.
Vessantara:
Abhaya~wanted to know more about the split.
Abhava: Yes. The split which you talk about which occurred between the two parties of disciples. One
of whom concentrated on the teaching and the other on the life and experience
(unclear)
I was
just wondering how soon this split comes into evidence and what evidence there is for it and whether
you could recommend any sources.
S.:
Oh yes, I mean, here I've deliberately not gone into the historical baakground in any detail.
But the split did take place about a hundred years after the Parinirvana, in connection with, or perhaps,
in a sense, even at the Council of Vaisali. It was there that the Theravadins succeeded from the
Mahasanghikas, or vice versa. The Mahasangikas, as the name suggests, being the majority party, and
the Theravadins, or Sthaviravadins, being the minority party. There are a number of dif- ferent
accounts in Pali and in Sa~krit sources which have been trans- lated into Chinese and Tibetan. They
differ to some extent, in fact, sometimes they differ considerably.
But, that is, broadly, the picture that emerges of a minority ...

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