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Buddha by Trevor Ling - The - Part 5

by Sangharakshita

Tape 17

S: I think there is quite a difference between Karl Marx in the Library of the British regime,
and the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. [Pause]
On the other hand there is this point that Marxism, or Communism, is very powerful and very
influential in the world today, so sooner or later we have to consider where we stand with
regards to it. I think this is inevitable. In this cosy little island of course, we are not faced
with that problem. So since we are not immediately faced by it, we prefer to ignore it. Not
think about it too much, if at all. But, for instance, in places like Finland they have to think
about it - Vajrabodhi is thinking about it. I don't know along what lines at the moment.

: From what I've heard from Bodhisri he's started to use lots of Marxist language, - he
uses the language of the Marxists in an attempt to communicate with them.

S: I have heard, and have also read, that in Britain currently, Marxist philosophy is
undergoing something of a revival in the universities. Has anyone heard about this? It's
becoming a bit intellectually respectable, especially as there are nowadays so many brands of
Marxism which are not connected with official Russian Communism. And that Marxist
philosophy is becoming increasingly respectable and influential in British universities. So I
think if one does come into contact with university people, one may be increasingly asked
questions from this sort of standpoint. So, therefore, perhaps, one has to do a little
homework, and maybe think about this a bit. I'm not suggesting you should read "Das
Kapital" right through. In my own younger days this was one of the two books that I started
but was never able to finish. The other one being, for your information, "Finnegan's Wake".
(Laughter) I struggled through about a third of "Das Kapital", and I just gave up.

Nagabodhi: How far did you get into "Finnegan's Wake"?

S: I think about three pages! (Laughter)

Nagabodhi: Did you go and see the film?

S: I didn't know there was a film. (Laughter)

S: But certainly Marxism is one of the great `movements' of our time, if not, in some ways,
the biggest and most influential, apart from Capitalism - If you can call that a `movement'.
So I think, perhaps we need to give some attention to it, and work out roughly where we
stand with regard to it.

Siddhiratna: I think it's quite surprising to find how far it does go into things like universities
and colleges. When I was at college last I was surprised to find how much Socialism there
was in the BFI, in their Education Department - all their syllabuses are based on a socialistic

S: Well, there is a certain amount of very diluted Marxism and diluted Marxist socialism, sort
of vague sort of semi-pseudo-liberal ideology - I wasn't thinking so much of that, but more in
terms of straight Marxism, if you like, a quite sort of rigorous intellectual analysis. I was
thinking more of that kind of thing. I think some of you know what I mean.

Lokamitra: All the student demonstrators ten years ago are now lecturing and writing books
and so on.

S: About what?

Lokamitra: Well, all the Marxist and so on demonstrators of the student things ten years ago
are now running universities.

S: I did find that when I was in Paris, and gave a few lectures there, that I came across many
people of this sort - intellectuals with a Marxist background, or with Marxist sympathies,
who asked questions from that sort of point of view. Sometimes very interestingly. In one
lecture I spoke about ethnic religions and universal religions and about the possibility that a
universal religion might, as it were, harden in the course of time into an ethnic religion, and
one student of Marxism - as he must have been - made quite an interesting question: he asked
me whether I thought that official Russian Communism - the Communism of the Russian
Communist Party - did not represent a similar sort of hardening, an ethnic hardening of Karl
Marx's original thought, which was more like a universal religion. So I said I hadn't thought
about it, but it was quite an interesting suggestion. One can see, as it were, the same law
operating, - albeit on a somewhat lower level, or a considerably lower level - that certain as it
were creative ideas produced by Marx had become a sort of `official' ideology of a very rigid,
`hard-line' party, sort of dogmatically enforced.

So I think what is attracting people's attention in British universities on a more serious level,
is not the dogmatic Marxist ideology put out from Moscow, but it is the more creative ideas
of Karl Marx himself, even in his more youthful period in the youthful writings, which
official Communism repudiates. He was very close to Hegel. I think many people in British
universities are more interested in that sort of Marx - Marx, the thinker, or Marx, the
philosopher, rather than in the Karl Marx of the Russian Communist pantheon. This is my
impression. I must say I don't have too much knowledge about it.

Vessantara: From what I've seen, I had quite a lot of contact with the University, the Russian
version of Communism just isn't seen as having very much to do with Marx any more. They
look to Cuba or China.

S: Well, China, in a way, has even less to do with Marx, but that doesn't mean it isn't
interesting and possibly creative.

Manjuvajra: I think that the current idea is that China is much, much closer to original
Marxist ideas. It's called the Marxist Leninist

S: Maoist - Marxist Leninist Maoist instead of Marxist Leninist Stalinist. Vajrabodhi, of
course, went to China and spent a few weeks there. He returned with very mixed feelings. He
returned with feelings of a very healthy group but he wondered what had happened to the
individual. [Pause] It was a very sort of healthy, possibly happy group life - certainly
healthy - in a rather puritanical sort of way, but with no room for the individual.

Siddhiratna: There was a film on Mao's death on television not long ago, where they showed
scenes of people working in fields - other people, the Red Guards I think it was, going out to
quote Mao sort of all together in some sort of lump way, but you try to imagine what would
happen if somebody said "No", or "Excuse me I've got something else to ......" (Laughter)

S: You have to practically appear on the streets in some of the cities, just carrying your `little
red book'. You're hardly safe without it, sort of thing. So there certainly doesn't seem much
room there for the individual.

Nagabodhi: That does seem to be the absolute fundamental point of opposition between what
we're doing and almost any form of Communism, in that the individual is not valued as the
unit - it's society.

S: Whereas at least in the Capitalist countries with all their fault, and they really are quite
terrible and tremendous faults, there is scope, very often, for the individual. There's also
scope for all sorts of disastrous mistakes on the part of the individual, but that is another
matter perhaps. All right, let's carry on.

Text: “What is certain, on the other hand, is that the Buddha was not regarded by the earliest
generation of Buddhists as a superhuman figure of any kind.”

S: Is this true? Well, it depends what you mean by `human' and therefore what you mean by
`superhuman'. From the Western point of view the Buddha was `superhuman', but not from
the Indian point of view, or Buddhist point of view, because for the Buddhist `human'
included also, at least potentially, the `transcendental'. The Buddha was an enlightened
human being, not an ordinary human being, so he was `super' to ordinary humanity. So
`superhuman' from the Western point of view, surely! Do you see what I mean?

Siddhiratna: Does this go back to what we were saying this morning about the Western idea
about what `human' means?

S: Yes exactly, yes!

Siddhiratna: I've forgotten what you did say actually, or what ..

S: Well the Western idea of `human' excludes tacitly `God'. There is a distinction between
`human' and `divine', between `man' and `God'. So the term `human' covers a comparatively
limited range. But in the case of Buddhism `human' can go right up to ultimate reality itself
and include that, because the human being is capable of realising that, as the Buddha did. So
the Buddha is not `superhuman' within the Buddhist framework of reference, because there is
nothing super ...

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