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Buddha by Trevor Ling - The - Part 6

by Sangharakshita

Tape 26

Nagabodhi: I don't really see this original problem - if one's bad how can one become good -
because if one simply says well, if one is ignorant ..... [S: Mm ! Mm!] .... one can learn.
There are practices, there are methods, there is a whole system .....[S: Mm. Mm. Yes !]
.....there is the Dharma, and one can learn. It's different. it isn't `bad', and uh ..... [S: Yeah.]
...... or a case of being `good'.

S: Of course from a Buddhist point of view you have no fixed nature.

Nagabodhi: You're simply acting in an unskilful way.

S: This is the way you are acting at present; this is the way the majority of people do behave
at the present time, which is not to say that they could not, with proper guidance and proper
effort, act differently. The Theravada would tend to look at it in those sort of terms.

Vessantara: Surely it's also the case, theoretically if you like, that the movement from where
you are as a puthujjana to being enlightened isn't just a continuum anyway, [S: Mm. Yeah.]
...Presumably you reach a point where when you develop insight it's not that you just carry on
a continuum .... [S: Right.] ...you've moved in some completely different space.

S: Yes. There is a sort of break, as it were. Mm. Yes.

Lokamitra: Presumably it's possible for people to have faith before they come into contact
with the Dharma .... [S: Mm.] .... and to that extent they could exhibit all the skilful qualities
but on a very limited level, - still very confused. And when they come in contact with the
Dharma they gradually get clearer and clearer. [S: Mm. Yeah.] ... but until then they will still,
perhaps, be bound up with all the prejudices which they thought were skilful, and so on.

S: There is something that I was reading the other day by Ouspensky - a little book of his
called "The Psychology of Man's Future Evolution".

He says there that - he's speaking of positive emotions - those emotions, only are really
positive which are permanently positive. Mm? Do you see what he means by this? He
points out that for instance there's love, but that love can change to hate, so therefore that love
is not positive in the true sense. So all our so-called positive emotions, he points out, are not
really positive because under certain circumstances they can change into hatred, or they can
change into some other negative emotion, so therefore he says only those positive emotions
are truly positive which are permanent - which cannot change into an opposite like that.

All right, so if we look at it in these terms, the puthujjana would not have any positive
emotions. He might be friendly to you now, but his friendliness could turn into hatred under
certain circumstances. He may be kind now but he could be cruel, and so on. So from this
point of view, and in this way you can say that the puthujjana did not have any truly positive
qualities. [Back to tape 17]

Lokamitra: ....... That would be in the sense of being a `stream entrant', `transcendental'.

S: No. Puthujjanas are by definition as it were non-ariyas.

Lokamitra: That would deny skilful ......

S: Well, you can have a skilful action which is skilful, but which is not sustained. It is skilful
so long as it's sustained but the fact is that it is not sustained. So in the case of the puthujjana

he is skilful, as it were, by accident. Do you see what I mean? You are not crossing his path,
you're not coming up against him, you're not thwarting him, so he can be relatively skilful, at
least in a mild sort of way. But if things don't go his way, or he is thwarted, or you cross his
path then the skilful becomes quite unskilful.

: This brings in the importance of a conducive environment then very much.

S: Yes, indeed! Very much so! So therefore one has to ask oneself with regard to these
positive qualities of ordinary people: how much strain would they be able to stand?

: Why would you ask that particular question?

S: Because that will enable you to estimate the relative truth or untruth of this particular

Nagabodhi: How much does it take to turn people who might be sociably pleasant and easy to
get on with and so on to raving monsters more or less. [S: Yes.]

S: It also goes to show how much depends upon conditions. As Lokamitra said: your
skilfullness very often just depends upon conditions, the sort of people you are with, the
surroundings in which you are. So therefore, for a time, you need helpful conditions so that
you can sustain yourself, with perhaps the beginnings of conscious effort and awareness,
sustain yourself in a skilful mental state and gradually consolidate that. And consolidate it to
the point where it can become a basis for the development of some insight as a result of
which the skilfullness and positivity will become permanent.

There's also another point that, for instance it is said here: "he will murder his own father or
his mother". Do you think this is likely to happen, whether this is an absolute impossibility in
the case of certain `ordinary' people? What do you think about this? [ : No. I don't think
it's impossible.] .... You don't think it's impossible, no. There's another factor here: what
about crowd behaviour? Because anyone who's a puthujjana can at any time be influenced by
crowd behaviour and swept up in that. This we can see repeatedly in all sorts of situations.

Siddhiratna: It is as Lokamitra was saying: given the right environment they wouldn't be.

S: Given the right environment those same people would behave quite differently. Especially,
of course, if you take them out of the crowd and you just have a few of them at a time, or
preferably even one at a time. So here we can see the importance of conditions. So the
puthujjana is someone who is very much at the mercy of conditions. You put him down in a
decent environment, feed him properly, look after him properly, give him the things he wants:
he can be very positive, but change the situation and not give him say any food and treat him
harshly he can become completely different. So therefore the positive conditions, the helpful
conditions become very, very important, and as I said they are just to enable you to stay in a
skilful mental state, like for instance a state of meditation, long enough to develop insight
which will consolidate and make permanent the skilful mental states and the positive
emotions. Until you reach that point of insight and consolidation and permanent positive
emotions, you're going to be pretty much at the mercy of conditions.

There are some people, of course, who are not, even without being stream entrants, show
quite a remarkable resistance to change of conditions. There are some people who do
maintain their positivity and cheerful under very, very adverse conditions, but they tend to be
a minority, but there are some such people, one has to recognise that.

Siddhiratna: It's a bit like the characters in "War and Peace".

: And that person could still not have had any insight?

S: Yes. It may be that either in this life or maybe even in previous lives from a Buddhist point
of view their conditions have been very favourable for them and they've got into what is
almost a sort of habit of skilfullness, a habit of positivity. You can see this among people:
that for some people just a moderate amount of annoyance and difficulty just reduces them to
a very unskilful mental state, but others can put up with very, very great difficulties and
troubles and disasters almost indefinitely, and still remain positive; and still remain so
cheerful. They don't lose that.

Nagabodhi: You could say, in a way, that that kind of person, yet who hasn't developed any or
much insight is a `deva'.

S: You could, indeed! You could. Yes. And the other is perhaps the asura-like person, who
gets easily irritated, easily upset.

Nagabodhi: All the realms, in a way, the hungry ghost realm, somebody who's never satisfied.

S: So I think on the whole what is said here about the puthujjana is correct, but one has to
remember a few other facts: that the puthujjana is very much dependent on conditions. Give
him better conditions and he'll be, at least for the time being, more positive and more skilful.
Give him worse conditions and he'll change for the worse. And also that, from the Mahayana
point of view at least, the potential, not only potential `seed' of Enlightenment is there -
underneath, as it were, in a manner of ...

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