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Bodhisattva Ideal - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1984 Part 5 - 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

if you've seen the original, you'll realise the difference at once. So yes, certainly a heirarchy could be
established in this way. But perhaps it's not only a heirarchy in the sort of vertical sense, but perhaps at
each stage you have to distinguish a near and a far enemy. So that you've got, as it were, three columns
of terms. One in the middle representing the different degrees or levels of compassion proper, one on
the left representing the corresponding degrees of the near enemy, and one on the right representing the
corresponding degrees of the far enemy. Perhaps someone could work that all out.
Padmavajra:
Related to the three degrees of compassion traditionally...
S:
I didn't say necessarily to them, but compassion in the real sense, yes, one could certainly do it
in that particular way. Possibly in other ways too.
Vessantara:
One last question left over from last time. In the second lecture you used, purely by
way of illustrating your point, the descent of the Holy Ghost on the apostles as a way of helping to
understand the Bodhicitta. If you had a Christian who were to equate the descent of the Holy Ghost and
the Bodhicitta, what would be the most fruitful line of argument to disabuse them ?
S:
Well, I don't see that one needs disabuse them because if a Christian came to think of the
descent of the Holy Ghost in those terms it might be a very good thing (laughter). I don't think one
need assume that the wretched Christian is always in the wrong! (laughter) I think we can venture to be
a little ecumenical sometimes. I don't know. I think it would depend very much on who that person
actually was and in what sense, or what spirit even, they were making that statement. I don't think there
is a sort of cut and dried answer to that question, taken as a sort of cut and dried question1 out of
context, apart from the particular person who happened to ask it.
Vessantara:
Some of these questions are now, in some way, connected with the third lecture.
Perhaps we can start with a 'Christian' question.
S:
Hmm.
Devamitra:
In the Christian tradition the monk takes three life-long vows; of chastity, poverty,
and obedience...
S:
Depends which order he belongs to, but we'll leave that aside.
Devamitra:
In the Buddhist tradition the bikkhu takes a precept of chastity, so there's that degree
of common ground. And the lifestyle of the bikkhu is one of simplicity, and therefore really of poverty
also. But as far as I'm aware there's no refrence in the Vinaya to obedience. And I was wondering -
well, in fact the distinc i
� o-nis
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sometimes made between (the) Buddhist monk and the Christian monk that, well the Buddhist monk
doesn't observe obedience, and this is quite a big difference between the two. But I was wondering if
there's ever been any Buddhist tradition in which obedience is an accepted and important discipline. So
that's the first question. Secondly, if so, are there any important differences between the Buddhist
conception of the term and the Christian conception. Thirdly, do you see any sense in which obedience
could be regarded as a quality of the True Individual. And forthly (laughter) could you point to any
circumstances in which obedience could be a useful discipline to observe in the FWBO ?
S:
Well, first of all, with regard to the Christian monk and the Buddhist monk, certainly there is
common ground in respect of the precept of celibacy or chastity. There is also common ground in
respect of the rule, or the precept, of poverty, because in most Christian monastic orders poverty means
that you have only very, very limited personal property, but you have a share in the common property
of your order or your community, And it's exactly the same in the case of the Buddhist monk. The
Buddhist monk has as his personal property only the .. (Skt.)... , strictly speaking they're only
requisites, but he has a share in the common property, a share in the sense that he may freely use the
common property of, usually, his monastery, or his (a~va~sa)? strictly speaking. But certainly there is
some difference with regard to the third vow taken by the Christian monk in many instances. I don't
even know that there is a common Pali word for instance, for obedience. Which is perhaps rather
interesting. I have given a little bit of thought to this particular matter in recent years though I must say
not very much. If I just sort of mentally glance through the different schools of Buddhism and
Buddhist literature I can't find that obedience, or what we would think of as obedience, is stressed, or is
considered of any importance except in two schools and two traditions.
First of all, in the Vajrayana. Where it would seem, to use that term, obedience, the disciple is
expected to obey the guru unconditionally. That would seem to be one of the messages of, say, the life
of Milarepa, the life of Marpa, the life of Naropa. They all seem to convey that lesson among others.
That the disciple is expected to obey the guru unconditionally. This may be connected with the fact that
in the Vajrayana tradition the disciple is encouraged, so to speak, to think of the guru as the Buddha,
even identify the guru with the Buddha and the Buddha with the guru. And of course if you
- 82 ~
believe that your guru is the Buddha, the Buddha incarnate so to speak, well you could hardly disobey
him. And then of course the other tradition is the Zen tradition, where it would seem, perhaps in a
somewhat different sort of way, that the disciple is expected to obey the roshi in the sense of implicitly
accepting and following any advice or guidance that he may give.
So the question arises, why is that? What is that obedience? And is it the same thing as
obedience in Christianity. Was that your second question?
Devamitra:
Yes.
S:
How did you phrase it?
Devamitra:
Well first of all I said, has there ever been any tradition in which obedience was
accepted as an important discipline? If so, are there any important differences between the Buddhist
and the Christian conception of the term?
S:
Well yes, this is the question which in a sense I'm asking myself. Becausc I'm not sure that the
phenomenon which we might describe as obedience in the case of the Tantric disciple and obedience in
the case of the Zen, or Chan, disciple, is, in fact, obedience in the Christian sense. So that raises the
question of what one means by obedience, and I think we probably need to go into that. What does one
mean by obedience? In the simplest terms, looking at it (as it were) just externally, obedience means
that if somebody asks you, or tells you more especially, to do something, you do it without any
question. But perhaps here too there can be different levels, even different kinds of obedience, because
surely there can different reasons why you obey. You can for instance obey, surely, out of fear. And
perhaps you can also obey out of love. In the case of the Christian monk, I believe, roughly speaking,
that the ideology, or the line of thinking is as follows:
Whom do you obey? You obey your abbot, your father abbot. And why do you obey him? You
obey him because God has place him over you. His is (as it were) your natural superior, and it is only
right and proper that you should obey your natural superior because the powers that be , in St Paul's
language, are ordained of God. So just as it is right and proper for the knight to obey his lord, right and
proper for the nobleman to obey his king, to whom he has sworn allegience, in the same way it is only
right and proper that the monk should obey his abbot. So I think, especially in the middle ages, there
was a certain sort of feudal element, or flavour, to monastic obedience. I did query at the beginning
whether all monks took a vow of obedience,
- 83 -
and that was because I believe, as far as I remember, that at the beginning of Christian monastic life,
that is to say in the case of St Benedict and the Benedictines (and all that) there was not in fact a vow
of obedience, that came later, possibly (I'm only hypothesising here) in conncetion with the
development of feudalism. But again that isn't the whole of the matter as regards even Christianity and
Christian obedience. One mustn't forget that Christianity saw man as sinful; with some reason,
(laughter) some justification; and for that reason Christ~ lanity saw man (in as it were more
psychological terms) as fundamentally, basically, egoistic; as self-willed; and as needing to deny
himself (I mean after all that was an important part of Christianity) to deny oneself, to deny one's own
will. Which because of one's sinfulness, because of original sin, was opposed to the will of God. So the
will of God came through your father abbot. And you not only obeyed that because it was'the right and
proper thing to do, but you obeyed it because by obeying it you negated your own self-will, you denied
yourself. And that was a very important element in monastic life or monastic practice.
So one can see, therefore, that obedience has these different senses. Obedience can mean these
different things, and that there can be various motivations for obedience. I think in modern times, in
the West, we tend to think of obedience almost entirely in negative terms. We think of obedience in
terms of obedience out of fear; in submission, unwilling submission, to some superior power; of
obeying because you have ...

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