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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

You searched for Thomas Merton

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... and-so.' You might say 'Well no, I don't think I should'. And they might accept that. But if they
thought you really should, then they would say 'I'm asking you to do it under obedience'. Then you
absolutely have to do it. I mean if you don't, well you just have to leave the monastery or the nunnery.
So I think it's quite interesting that the distinc- tion is made, even in Christian monastic life, that it's not
a question of obeying each and every little (almost)
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whim (as it were) of the abbot or the Mother Superior, but it's only when it comes to the crunch (as it
were) that the abbot or Mother Superior has that power (so to speak) to invoke the vow of obedience.
But it's not done on every occasion. So there is perhaps a little more freedom in Christian monasteries
than one might have thought. What was your question?
Prasanasiddhi: I was just wondering if obedience was more fixed, inasmuch as if you actually felt that
it wasn't a good idea you'd be forced to do it anyway, without...
S: Ah, yes... I read a biography of Thomas Merton by Monica Furlong, an extremely good biography,
as a biography, and Merton emerges as a very interesting character. He was of course a Trappist monk
who became interested in Zen and oriental thought, and he wrote a lot of books: some good and some
not so good, on various aspects of Zen and comparitive religion and comparitive mysticism, monastic
life and so on. But reading this biography, it does seem that the vow of obedience was his great burden
for so many yflars of his life. He did have what would seem, as far as - one can make out, to have been
a quite unsympathetic and un-understanding superior. And therefore Merton always found the vow of
obedience coming in the way. Or rather (perhaps I shouldn't put it that way) perhaps one should say
rather it would seem that the Father Superior sort of used the fact that Merton was under a vow of
obedience in a way that it probably wasn't meant to be used even within the context of Christian
monastic life. And that made things very difficult for Merton, because sometimes he would think, 'Well
maybe God is testing me, maybe the Father Superior is absolutely wrong, he doesn't know what he's
talking about, but he is my superior under God, and I ought just to give up my own will, or crush my
own will, and just obey.'
In the end what happened - he could not honestly obey. He was unable, for various reasons, to
leave the order. So it's quite clear that what he did, he started evading the vow of obedience, which
wasn't really a very good thing from a spiritual point of view. He never really cleanly confronted the
issue. Though one got the impression that had he not met with a tragic death, as he finally did,
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accidental death, within a few years he might well have left the Trappist order. If that had happened it
would have been on this issue of obedience. So I think, as I mentioned earlier on, it's not only a
question of a very positive attitude of the person obeying, but also, even more so perhaps, a very
positive attitude - not only - positive but almost an illumined or enlightened attitude - on the part of the
person actually giving the order, so to speak. Because, you know, you're dealing with another person's
life, and you can't play about with that.
Prasanasiddhi: I suppose you could perhaps say that in a sense, that in Buddhist monasteries in the
past, there would have been this... where the head abbot who'd given a lot of trouble to a discipl~,
maybe in an unskilful way.
S: One does get that impression, that some Zen masters (or others)? who have done that, especially
with their Western disciples. One gets the impression that it wasn't always, or isn't always, the
obtuseness of the Western disciple. It is sometimes the limitations and even blindness of the Eastern
master. I must say that I myself, in certain instances, have got that impression quite definitely. So, I
would say that perhaps this whole question of obedience is one that we need to talk about more and
explore more and think about more within the movement.
Vessantara:
There are some questions connected with your equating the Bodhicitta and Stream
Entry as different aspects of the same experience.
S:
This is still left over from...?
Vessantara:
Well, it sort of follows on. It arises out of further discussion.
S:
O.K.
Ric Cooney:
When we look at the teachings of the bhumis not from the historical perspective but
from this other perspective of Stream Entry, which implies irreversibility, which equates with the
arising of the Bodhicitta. (Could there seemingly be some meaning in the teachings themselves)?? The
Bodhicitta not arising till the eighth stage, logically it follows...
S:
No, it's irreversibility .
Ric cooney:
.. .not arising till the eighth stage. It would appear thenthat the first seven
could
logically be the path of the aspirant Bodhisattva. What I was actually wondering was can we actually
look at the teachings in this way when we have this sort of (phenomenon)? or apply this new
perspective to it? Should we just accept that the teachings cannot really be correlated in this way and
that they can only really be seen apart in the historical perspective.
S:
Yes. I don't think they can be correlated point by point. I don't think that is possible, because
the developments have been too diverse and over too many centuries even. But none- theless I think
we need to be able to correlate them to some extent in the interests of our own spiritual life and our
own spiritual development, otherwise we find ourselves in what is really the quite impossible situation
of having, say, to choose between the Mahayana and the Hinayana, the Bodhisattva Ideal and the
Arahant Ideal, as though they really did represent separate and distinct paths.Whereas my main point
is, of course, that they don't represent separate and distinct paths, that the spiritual path is only one for
all in a sense. As the Siddharma- pundarika sutra in fact teaches. And that the path of the so- cal led
Arahant and the path of the so-called Bodhisattva are only different aspects, different ways of looking
at that one path. But that doesn't mean that one can correlate all the details of those paths, or
presentations of those paths as worked out in Buddhist tradition, with one another. I don't think that can
be done, and perhaps we shouldn't try to do it, perhaps we should be satisfied with just a sort of general
correlation, or under- standing the general principle or spirit of the thing.
Otherwise, if we aim at
a point by point correlation I think we fall victim to another type of literalism.
Vessantara:
Does that leave us, as it were, in practical terms, aiming at Insight, with the various
repercussions of that, and...
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I mean it almost seems to me as if that traditional descriptions almost as museum pieces which in a
way aren't relevant to us.
S:
It leaves them as museum pieces to the extent that one takes ....... to the extent that they reflect
any sort of tendency to regard the two main ideals, the Arahant and the Bodhisattva ideals, as literally
distinct, as really different.
Vessantara: It seems that people actually see... if you equate these then you begin to run into anomolies
when you get to...
S:
Oh yes indeed. Because they developed separately, without reference to each other, eventually.
So I think one has to take the gist of the matter, and take the historical material as, sort of, illustrative.
Not to take it too literally. For instance when one thinks or speaks in terms of insight, well, to think and
speak in terms of prajna, and to take, as it were, the Mahayana point that prajna is not really separable
from compassion, or compassion from wisdom, because much of the traditional Hinayana would seem
to suggest that compassion can, in fact, be separated from wisdom. Whereas I think the records of the
Buddha's own teaching, and the Buddha's own life, seem to suggest that it cannot be separated in that
sort of way. But if you get a path subsequently worked out by followers of the Hinayana entirely in
terms of wisdom, or so-called wisdom, with no reference to compassion, well, one cannot really find
that very useful or very helpful, not in its entirety. Though you might find a point that is made here, or
a point that is made there, of some use. But you cannot really take seriously a working out of the
spiritual path entirely in terms of insight, or entirely in terms of prajna, apparently as entirely divorced
from compassion. And that must be a museum piece for you!
Vessantara: Antonio has a question on the ten great vows that you mention. S: By the way,
at the
beginning I say, apparently, that there are ten great vows by a slip of the tongue, where I really mean
four, although somewhere else I do refer to an actual ten.
Antonio Perez: In trying to see the relevance of the ten vows to I found that the first two... actually
they were quite easy to understand, but we come to the third one...
S:
Which one is that?
Antonio Perez: That is "to see all the incidents of the earthly career of a Buddha". I couldn't quite
understand how can one actually vow to do that?
S:
Well, one mustn't forget that the traditional Mahayana presentation of the Bodhisattva Ideal
and the Bodhis~attva career envisages that career extending over three asamkheyyas of kalpas. And
therefore as covering ...

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