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Bodhisattva Ideal - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1984 Part 9 - 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

the goddesses. One has got the(Nibelogan Leida ?) One has got, in the case of the Celts, all those
quite wonderful myths which eventually found efflorescence in the Grail cycle and so on. What's the
general term for all those?
Arthurian, yes, you could say they are Arthurian but n7t completely Arthurian. And then of
course in the case of Christianity one has Christianity's own ~pecific myths. The myths about the
virgin birth and about the crucifiction and and the resurrection and the ascension and the annunciation.
These are all actually myths, as perhaps we are only now just beginning really to appreciate.
clearly myth has got a connection with culture. Myths are found in every culture, they form part of
every culture. But what the exact nature of the relation is I wouldn't really care to say. It's almost as
though sometimes myth is at the beginning of culture, It's alriost as though, and here I am just
hazarding a guess, culture grows out of -myth or is perhaps an aspect of myth. But perhaps I can at
least say that there is no culture without myth and perhaps it is significant that a modern humanistic
and secular culture tends to move a way from the myth. Or perhaps it has got its own myths. There
are one or two scientific myths around, I believe.
I have been reading a book, recently, about the
scientists who were responsible, ultimately, for the production of the atom bomb. And one little myth
that I encountered there, it was explained in this book that it was in fact a mygh, was that
Hoppenheimer was the father of the atom bomb. But actually he wasn't, this one might say was a
modern sort of scientific myth. Actually the whole story it would seem was much ~ore complicated,
and also more interesting than that. B-ut in popular scientific mythology, Hoppenheimer appears as the
father of the atom bomb, father representing, quite obviously, a quite mythical concept in itself.
So one might say in conclusion, that yes, the connection between culture on the one hand and
myth on the other or myth on the one hand and culture on the other, is quite intimate. But about the
exact nature of that connection, o~ that relation- ship, I wouldn't care at the moment to pronounce.
Perhaps it isn't so easy to say what it is. In any case perhaps it requires further thought.
prassanasidddhi also had a question about culture.
Prassanasiddhi: It arose out of my study group. Actually it is a five-fold quesiton divided into two
The first bit arose out of your saying that through arts and sciences the mind becomes more attuned to
spiritual things. So I wondered, would the level of cultural develop- ment of a given society affect the
level of receptivity to the Dharma of its inhabitants? Then; in societieswiith~a low level of cultural
development would, say an- O-r-der Member,~ (for example~) have to involve himself or herself on a
cultural as app~osed to a spiritual plane? Then; is it p~o~ssible that some societie~s~, m~aybe
centuries away, s-pe-ak-ing in a collective sense, fr~o~m true appreciation of the--Dharma, due to their
level of cultu~tal developm~ent and related to that to what extent does the cultural
BIQ/A 84 9 - 4-162-
development of -a -so-ciety support the emergence of individuals?~ - Then there are a couple of
different questions.
Right, let's have these first then. Just reread that rtrst clause.
Prassanasiddhi: Would the level of cultural development of a given society affect the level of
receptivity to the Dharma of its inhabitants?
Well there does seem to be a connection between culture 7nd spiritual life. Because, if one
looks back and tries to see in what sort of cultural milieu higher religious or higher spiritual teachings
have emerged, one doesn't, so far as I recollect, ever see them emerging from a cultural vacuum. If one
takes, for instance, the case of India. The India of the Buddha's day was far from uncultured. The
China of Confuscious' day was far from uncultured. The Roman Pal~stinian world of the time of
Christ was far from uncultured, that Mediterranean world which saw the birth of Christianity was far
from uncultured. The only possible exception, to some extent, though we don't actually know all that
much about it was the Arabia of the time of Mohammed. It wasn't perhaps cultured in the sense that
these other areas were but nonetheless one musn't underestimate the possibilities of oral culture. There
was not much in the way of literature, well come to that in the days of the Buddha there was no written
literature, there was a very rich oral tradition which was afterwards written down. We do know that the
Arabia of Mohammeds day was infiltrated by both Jewish and Christian culture and that he was in
contact with that. So perhaps Islam is not by any means a real exception to what would seem to be that
gene~al rule.
So yes, this does seem to be the position; that higher spiritual teachings emerge
within a context of a higher culture, broadly speaking. One also sees, looking at the history of
religions, that they react upon cultures and very often refine those cultures in their turn. There's a sort
of reciprocal relationship. One sees that as, for instance, Buddhism goes to China. There the
Buddhism found a very highly developed, very rich culture, but Buddhism had a very fructifying
influence Chinese culture and helped it to rise to new heights. One can probably say that Chinese
Buddhist culture was the absolute flower of Chinese culture generally. The Tanq and Sung dynasties
are generally considered to represent the peak of Chinese cultural achievement in practically all fields.
And they were~dynasties during which the influence of Buddhism was especially strong. So one does
see this sort of reciprocal relationship between culture and religion, it would seem higher spiritual
teachings arising within the context of a matrix of culture and in their turn- - eventually refining that
culture. What was the next part of the question, the next clause?
Prassanasiddhi: In societies with a low level of cultural development would, say, an Order Member,
for example, have to involve himself or herself on the cultural as apposed to the spiritual plane. Or
more on the cultural as apposed to the spiri- tual plane?
It's a question, or it would be a question of communication. Receptivity to the Dharma would
see~n to to imply, or would seem
BIQ/A 84 9 - 5 -163-
to involve a fairl high degree of emotional receptivity~and therefore, even, o emotional refinement.
And that is usually achieVed initially through or by means of culture. So if you find yourself in an
area, in a region or a part of the world where people were very uncultured the chances are that they
would be emotionally unrefined and therefore not very receptive to a spiritual teaching like Buddhism.
So therefore as part of your teaching of the Dharma you might need to involve yourself in cultural
We know that even in the West, even in a place like London not many people, not the
majority of people by any means, are open to or receptive to directly spiritual teachings. We know that
in some cases they can be, sort of coaxed into taking an interest in the Dharma, as such, with the help
of cultural activities conducted under the auspices, so to speak, of Buddhism, which cultural activities
provide them with a sort of bridge~- between their interest in culture itself and a possible interest in
Buddhism. So I would say that yes, if the people among whom you were trying to communicate the
Dharma were, as it were uncultured and therefore emotionally unrefined you might initially have to
speak the language of culture rather than the language of the Dharma. You would have to speak the
language of culture, so to sPeak, in order eventually to be able to speak the language of the Dharma at
all. In a sense you r speaking of the language of culture would be speaking the language of the
Dharma because to speak the language of the Dharma, to communicate the message of the Buddha
would be your ultimate objective. I have referred before to the fact that I have found in the past that
be teaching, say, a group of students an English poem without any thought of Buddhism, without any
intention even, any conscious intention of communicating Buddhism or communicating the Dharma, if
you go deeply enough into the meaning of that poem you will in fact find yourself naturally
communicating, spontaneously communicating something of what we call the Dharma.
Prassanasiddhi: Some thing?
Well, no doubt one's audience has limitations.
What's the next clause.
Prassanasiddhi: Is it possible that soine societies may be centuries away, speaking in a collective
sense, from a true appreciation of the Dharma due to their level of cultural development?
This reminds of something that Mahatma Ghandi is supposed 7o have said. I quoted it
recently, I hope too many of you haven't heard it. He was asked once what he thought of Christianity
in England, and he said that he thought it would be a good idea. (laughter) So one might say in the
same way, what do you think about culture in England and one might reply, 'one thinks that it would be
a good idea'. Because actually, nowadays, though culture is available in the sense that facilities are
available, books are available, there are art galleries, there are museums, there are all these sort of
wonderful opportunities the ...

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