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Bodhisattva Ideal - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1984 Part 2 - Unchecked

by Sangharakshita

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked, and may contain mistakes and mishearings.

comes along and asks you 'Well, what is the goal of Buddhism?' and you say, quite glibly, 'Well,
Enlightenment, of course, Supreme Enlightenment, you know, unification of wisdom and compassion
on the highest level.' So, that's true. The words, in a sense, the words themselves are formally correct,
but your being is not adequate to what you have said because you yourself don~t embody that0 So, in
that case or to that extent, your words are not an expression of your being, because your words go far
beyond your being. So, in a sense, they're only words. I mean, if you can think of there being two
circles, a great big circle which is your words, but then a little, tiny circle which is your being, whereas
actually, they should be much more nearly commensurate. And if your words are too much out of
harmony with your being, people will pick up on that.
There is a saying - I think it's by Emerson - that 'What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot
hear what you say.' (Laughter0) So, you have to be very careful about ~hat sort of message you're
actually putting across. I mean, you can be talking about love and about metta, but you can be in a
thoroughly irritable sort of frame of mind and that's what the other person will perhaps pick up on. So,
it is important that when you talk about the dharma your being, should be, to some extent at least, in
harmony with that, and that's why it is quite important that people who take, say, study, classes and
who lead meditation and pujas should be in the corresponding frame of mind and take steps to prepare
themselves, to get into the corresponding frame of mind before they take that class or lead that puja.
They must give themselves that time. That is very important. Otherwise to dash in, snatch your kesa
and sort of plonk yourself down on the seat and look about and say 'Good heavens, gosh meditation.
Which meditation is it? O.K... Mindfulness.' Dong! (Laughter.) That's not good enough. I have
almost, seen people doing that. You might have, yourself, as a humble Mitra, sometimes suspected or
wondered whether an Order Member wasn't, perhaps, doing something of that kind, at least on
Vessantara: .... This whole lecture, in a way, is based on the idea that you go to the Buddha's life for
examples for compassion. In a way, when we were talking about it in our group, it seemed extra-
ordinary that in the texts there aren't more just unequivocal state- ments that the whole aim of the
spiritual life is to gain Enlight- enment for the sake of all sentient beings, actually in the Buddha's life,
say, and in the Pali Canon and in his teachings.
- 21 -
S.: Well, there are such statements in the Pali Canon. I think one I quoted fairly recently, though I can
not remember in which context. There is a passage in the Anguttara Nikaya - perhaps someone will
remember where I have quoted it when I mention it - where the Buddha speaks in terms of there being
four kinds of being. The first kind... or four kinds of person... the person who helps neither himself nor
others, then the person who helps others but not himself, then the person who helps himself but not
others and then the person who helps both himself and others - and he is the highest person. So that
quite clearly embodies, one might say, the Bodhisattva Ideal within the context of the Pali Canon itself
and there are, you know, other such passages. For instance, in the Maha vagga of the Vinaya Pitaka
when the Buddha addresses the first sixty Arahants where he says 'saratha bhikkhave' - go forth 0monks, 'bahujana hitaya
' for the good of many people, the welfare of many people, 'Anukamiva
out of compassion. So there that other-regarding emphasis is very clear indeed. But it isn't a
predominant emphasis in the Pali Canon but, I think, if one looks at the total bulk of the Pali Canon, if
you deduct all those suttas, that are spun out from very scanty mat- erials and which seem to be later
compilations, well, then these other elements would seem to bulk larger, as it ~ere, in comparison.
I mean, there is also.. .1 mean, the possibility of concluding that certain things did get, as it
were* left out of the Pali Tipitaka. You know, things which were subsequently incorporated into the
various Mahayana sutras in one form or another. Where, of course, compassion or the other-regarding
emphasis is very strong indeed.
I don't personally like to cut the Gordian knot in that sort of way,but I think, if one looks
carefully enough at the Pali Canon there are quite enough indications, in fact, to suggest really quite
conclusively that the original Buddhist ideal was not one simply of liberation for oneself alone.
Vessantara: Sarvamitra had a couple of questions.
Sarvamitra: This arose from the incident with the Sim ~
� pa leaves. I was wondering if the Buddha
had ~erfected merit, why could he only communicate a handful of truths that he had realised?
S.: It's not that he could not communicate more because that par- ticular passage, that particular text,
goes on to explain why the Buddha did not explain more. And that was that the truths which he did not
communicate, or had not communicated, would not .. would
- 22 -
not be beneficial to his disciples - would not, in fact, help them to transcend suffering and attain
Enlightenment. So, it is not that he was unable to but that he did not, for pedagogical reasons, as it
were, consider it appropriate to communicate those particular truths. But, nonetheless, there was a
whole resevoir of truths that he had not communicated.
I mean, he instances that he had communicated the Four Noble Truths and the fact that he
mentions that particular formulation suggests, again, that he had spoken about, I mean, spoken only
about those things which he not only knew but which were actually helpful to the people to whom he
was speaking.
Sarvamitra: And the other question arose from the Kisagotami in- cident. ~ Do you have any thoughts
on how one can maintain and pro- tect the impact of a deeper realisation caused by a bereavement or a
threat to your life - some sort of shock - so that one doesn't lose the intensity of practice that is initiated
by it?
S.: I think it is almost impossible not to lose something of the impact. I've seen this can happen in the
case of two or three people, whom I know reasonably well, in recent years. People do possess the
ability to forget. Perhaps, in some cases, mercifully. But un- fortunately very often what is ~ositive in
the experience of bereave- ment is suffered to be lost.
There's no, sort of, hard and fast rule, as it were, by ob- serving which one can guarantee that
that insight (with a small i) isn't lost. One can only make a strong resolution to keep up, as it were,
one's practice, or perhaps ask one's spiritual friends to re- mind one from time to time.
I think I mentioned, again I am not sure where, I think it was in a lecture or something ... or
similar, which I was editing, per- haps for Mitrata ... I spoke about someone who came to see me
because his girlfriend had committed suicide and he wanted to become a monk on the spot. Have you
read this yet? Or has it not ... it has ap- peared. Do you remember this? Well, that is a ... yes, he did
have some sort of experience of, you know, insight, with a small i, on that particular occasion. But it
didn't last long. It doesn't seem to have l~sted more than a few days, at the most, a few weeks. But at
the time he was very, very much affected and wanted me to make him a monk literally on the spot and
he even said 'I am not going to leave this room until you make me a monk.' Needless to say I didn't. I
got rid of him somehow. (Laughter.)
- 23 -
But this does happen and one becomes, I won't say cynical, but one becomes a little reserved
in one's response to people in this sort of situation because one ... one knows that it very often doesn't
last. In India they call it (kachasanyas?) or 1unripe re- nunciation' - when you either~aotually
renounce or want to renounce in this very, sort of, immature, reactive sort of way - not based on any
real insight or understanding.
But the question isn't that, because, supposing you do have an element of insight well, how do
you safeguard it? I think you have to be very careful that you don't sort of, allow yourself to go back
to your previous, your old way of life - that you do not plunge into distractions and that you take the
opportunity of, say, making cert- ain changes in your whole way of life which will help you in pre-
serving and strengthening that insight. Burn your boats, or, at least, burn a few of them behind you so
that you can't go back. But there's no, sort of , technique of, you know, preserving that insight. It can
only be your own sustained mindfulness in the long run. And, as I said, maybe your spiritual friends
can help.
Devamitra: It does seem strange that sometimes you can have a more intense experience of vision and,
you know, literally a few weeks later it can almost have frittered away.
S.: But that's why perhaps, as I have said, changing the expression, we have to strike while the iron is
hot. Give up your job when you are in that sort of mood. I mean, no doubt after consulting your
spiritual friends because you don't want to do anything rash or fool- ish, so consult your spiritual
friends but take those steps which will, in a way, force you thereafter to continue in the same direct-
Vessantara: Kamalasila had some questions from his ...

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