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Bodhisattva Ideal - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1984 Part 11 - 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

Vessantara:
We'll start with Dave who had a question about the Cathars and martyrdom.
Dave Living. You've answered part of this question before really... From the example of the
destruction of the Cathars, do you think they failed to escape a Christian moral influence by courting
martyr- dom instead of meeting the problem with more imagination as well as courage. And also the
bit that you've answered already - could tWe FWBO learn from the destruction? I suppose you could
say 'foresight'.
S.: Just take that bit by bit. What was the first bit?
Dave : From the example of the destruction of the Cathars, do you think they failed to escape a
Christian moral influence by courting martyrdom instead....?
S.: I'm not sure that they courted martyrdom. I think, from what I remember from my reading, that it
was more that, they found it very difficult to avoid it. (Laughter) No, I don't think it would be correct
to say that they courted it, if one means by that that they deliberately provoked people to martyr them,
as some of the early Christians clearly did do. So what follows after that?
Dave:
Instead of perhaps meeting the problem with rnure imagination? Could they have had a mibt
more imagination, as well as courage?
S.: It's very difficult to say, because it was a very long and complicated story. There were all sorts of,
not only religious, but political factors involved. What more they could have done, it's very difficult
to say. The Pope, of course, was against them. He wanted to exterminate them. He called upon the
nobles of northern France to come down and seize their lands because they were heretics, which those
nobles did - many of them of course were Normans. They were, you know, quite good fighters. What
we may call -the 'lay Cathars', did put up a resistance. It was only what were called the 'Perfecti' - they
didn't offer any resistance. They were of course, of the minority. The attitude of some of the 'lay
Cathars' or semi-Cathars, was ambiguous sometimes, because as I've said, there were all sorts of
political factors also involved.
In what sense or in what way they were lacking in imagination is, I
think, too big and too wide a question really to answer. But it is interesting that that time the whole of
what is now, southern France was strongly influenced by Catharism - that there was a very high
percentage of Cathar sympathizers throughout that area and they were very well-organized. One might
say with the benefit of hindsight, that they ought to have been able to see what was coming but even if
they had been able to see what was coming it's very difficult to say what they could have done even
then, because they were, in Europe as a whole, a minority. So I think one couldn't really say anything
useful here without really analyzing the whole situation in some depth and in some detail. But what
was the next point after that?
Dave:
Well there was just what the FWBO could learn from their destruction, I suppose?
S.: I think the main lesson is one, I think, I-'ve already pointed out which is that the Cathars were
wiped out for all practical purposes. But it is extraordinary how the memory of the Cathars at least
survives and Catharism is being made a subject of study now. The Church was not able to stamp out
Catharism completely by any means.
BI 12/2 -202-
It's doubtful whether there is any sort of survival of the original historical Catharsism - that, I
think is extremely doubtful, but there do seem to be groups here and there in France who are in- spired
by the Cathars and their beliefs and their literature, customs, history is being made nowadays, the
subject of wuite in- tnesive study. So one can't say that the Catholic Church did en- tirely succeed in
wiping them out. It could be that the fact that there was a Cathar movement in southern Europe, and
that they did - many of them, die for their beliefs - provides people with an inspiration which may be in
some ways about as valuable as the actual survival of the Cathars itself would have been. I mean, had
they survived, who knows, what would have happened. They might have degenerated; they might
have become corrupt. As it is, they remain a shining example. Was that all?
Dave:
Yes, that's all. I was just wondering whether they could have emigrated at all?
S.: They could have done had they lived later. Because later on in Europe, in the 16th, 17th and 18th
centuries, many persecuted minority religious groups did emigrate. They emigrated to the New World,
but the New World was not discovered by Columbus until 1492. So that was about 200 years too late
for the Cathars. But bodies similar to the Cathars in certain respects did emigrate to the New World
once it was discovered. I mean, think of the in- stnace of the.. well, I was going to instance the
Puritans but they weren't really very similar to the Cathars. One could instance other more radical
sects. One could think of a very much later period of course. I think the last century and maybe even
this, you know, the Dukhobors, who emigrated to Canada mainly, I think from Russia. There were
other~groups of that sort. So emigration was not really an option for them.
Devamitra: Since we're on the subject of the Cathars, could I just ak why it is that you've taken such a
strong interest personally in their history, because it seems that your interest is more than juSt for the
purposes of an object lesson for the FWBO?
S.: I can't really say that I've taken a very special interest in them. It's more that I happened to
mention them because I've taken an interest in quite a number of other groups. But I have perhaps
been interested in holding them up to the FWBO as a sort of awful warning, of what might happen if
you're not able to combine, you know, the harmlessness of the dove and the wisdom of the serpent. But
I've probably given less attention to the Cathars than to some other religious or spiritual traditions and
groups. But I've prob ably not talked about those others.
Mark McClelland: In the discussion our group had about asceticism, we saw that the original Greek
term 'ascesis' was a very positive term wiich meant 'training'. Do you think that we could resurrect this
term in its original sense? And in the light of this original def- inition, do you see any practices or
'asceticisms' which you think would be beneficial for Order members to undertake? And lastly, do you
see asceticism as a quality of the true Individual?
S.: Ah, so there are three questions there. What was the first one?
Mark: The first one was, do you think that we could resurrect this term 'ascesis'?
BI 12/3 203a04 frfi~r?
S.:
The history of words would seem to be irreversible. It would ~a ggod thing if we could
resurrect the oftginal meaning of the term. I think it's quite unfortunate that the original meaning of the
term has been lost sight of. And as you say, the original meaning of the term was 'exercise' or
'training'. We do perhaps need a word of that sort with a sort of religious or spiritual connotation. But
I'm afraid that if you tried to use the word 'asceticism' , in your revised or resurrected meaning in
ordinary discourse, people would be almost certain to misunderstand you, however much you tried to
make yourself clear. But perhaps we should try, nonetheless, because I think we need a word of that
sort because we need that particular concept. We need that part- icular idea in connection with the
religious or spiritual life and I think it would be very helful if we did have that.
There's quite a
number of words which have degenerated in meaning in the course of the centuries. I mentioned a few
evenings ago, the word, 'intellect', which had degenerated very much since the Middle Ages. I doubt
very much whether one would in fact be able to resurrect the original meaning of the word 'intellect'.
The word 'imagination' - a word which is used in a very equivocal sense nowadays - so some
of us have taken to using the word 'imaginal' or 'imaginal faculty' or 'imaginal world', instead.
But I
can't think offhand of any word the original meaning of which, after the meaning had been debased,
had been restored. I can't think of any example, but nonetheless, there's no reason perhaps, why we
shouldn't try. So what was the second part of the question?
Mark: The second part was: In the light of this original defin- ition, do you see any practices or
'asceticisms' which you think could be beneficial for Order members to undertake?
S.:
Well, that's quite a broad question if one speaks of 'ascet- icisms' in the plural; then one is
speaking of exercises or trainings and everything that we do is supposed to be an exercise or a train-
ing. Meditation is an 7asceticism' in that sense. It's not an asceticism in the corrupt sense of the term-
to try to get up at 6 O'Clock or 7 O'Clock in the morning and meditate. It's simply a training. And in
the same way, silence is a training. Ethics is a training. Communication exercises are a training;
ever~iing is a training. So I think it isn't really a question of introducing new forms of asceticism, if
we nean by asceticism, training. Well, we've got quite enough training to be getting on with already, so
far as I can see. So the question --� part three - what was that?
Mark: And the last part was: To what extent do you see asceticism as a quality of the true
Individual?
S.:
Well, clearly, the true Individual must train. In a way, the question answers ...

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