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Channel Four UK TV Interview - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita

Questions and Answers based on channel Four TV Interview 1984 Page 1 __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________




Sangharakshita: I don't know if anybody timed that - I think it was about twenty minutes, wasn't it?

__________: Twenty-five.

S: Twenty-five? I remember the original interview took about fifty-five minutes. So that means quite a bit has been cut. And this is perhaps partly the
reason at least why some of the things that I have to say ended as it were rather abruptly. I just think that's where the cutting came in and they were in
rather a hurry perhaps to move on to the next question. The lady did seem rather anxious to cover as much ground as possible. I was under the
impression that they were going to use all fifty-five minutes. Whether they themselves were under that impression at the time but subsequently had to
cut I don't know. But I just mentioned this to forestall any question as to why I didn't say more on any particular point. I was aware at the time of
course that they wanted to cover quite a lot of ground but I think they have cut quite a lot of what I actually did say on some of the topics that were
raised. I just wanted to make that point before, before some of you started asking questions. Questions arising out of this little interview itself.

First before you do that I should mention that the lady who was interviewing me, who was a quite kindly and sympathetic person, was an ex-nun. She'd
been a Catholic nun for a number of years and she lost her faith. I don't know how she managed to do that. (Laughter) Quite an accident! But she had
written two books. In fact I heard that one of the books, I think I saw the reviews, a book explaining or describing how she ceased to be a nun. I think it
was called something like 'Over the Wall' or 'Over the Convent Wall' or something like that. But it was quite well reviewed, I think four or five years
ago. She has written another book since and now she seems to be getting into television and especially into religious programmes.

But of course as you saw the title of the series was borrowed from William James, 'Varieties of Religious Experience', I think, the emphasis was very
much on religious experience. I wasn't very happy with that. I went along with it because that was what they wanted. I tried to make a few points of
my own during the course of the programme. But anyway if there is any sort of problem or question that one would like to ask on any of those points,

well, please fire away and Order Members please don't all speak at once. (Laughter) (Pause)

__________: Karen Armstrong said that Buddhism denies the existence of God. Is Buddhism atheistic or merely agnostic?

S: Well, agnosticism is usually understood to mean that one doesn't know, one way or the other. But the Buddha certainly didn't say that he didn't know
one way or the other whether a god existed or a god did not exist. I mean God, a God, God with a capital G, God in the full theistic sense. God includes
the existing records. He did say quite categorically that there was no such being. There were gods but not God. No creator of the world. No creator of
the universe. So I think there is no doubt that Buddhism is non-theistic. I think it's better to say non-theistic than atheistic because atheism in the West is
usually associated with materialism perhaps quite wrongly. Quite recently even during the last few days no less a person than the Pope does have quite
a bit to say about atheism and he clearly associates atheism and materialism and he attributes such things as violence and war and so on, to people's lack
of religion, in fact to their atheism.

Whereas of course, if one looks at history one can find that plenty of people who fervently believe in God have in fact been responsible for a very great
deal of destruction and human suffering. Whereas people who have no belief in God very often do not bring destruction or that sort of destruction and
human suffering at all. So I think it is really quite unfair to think of atheism or non-atheism in those sort of terms as representing something
materialistic, unspiritual, evil and irreligious and immoral and all the rest of it. We're thinking of sending a letter to the Pope. (Laughter) I think this is
one of the fundamental lessons taught by a study of comparative religion. That ethical life is not a monopoly of theistic faiths. It's far from being a
monopoly of theistic faiths. (Pause)

__________: Have you given any more thought to the quotation in St. John of the Cross about visions being possibly insane and undisciplined mischief.

S: Well, no, I haven't given any further thought but I have read the works of St. John of the Cross but that was years ago. I don't remember that
particular passage. But of course it depends on what one means by undisciplined. That depends what one means by disciplined. I don't think that St.
John of the Cross was talking about discipline in the more ordinary, as it were, ethical behavioural sense. I think he made that comment within the
context of a discussion about mystical experience. So as a Christian mystic he would wish to be occupied with nothing else except the presence of God
Himself. So he would regard a vision or anything of that sort as a distraction. Well in a sense a Buddhist would too.

So if one uses for example, undisciplined to mean any sort of movement of the mind which strayed from whatever you regarded as the Gospel or your
spiritual life, well yes one could say to have visions, unless one regarded visions as the ultimate goal of one's spiritual life, then visions would be a sign
of an undisciplined mind. Because it would mean that you were having what in fact you did not want to have because you could not help having those

visions and that is the essence of undiscipline. (Pause) Then when you sit to meditate you don't want to fidget, you've no intention of fidgeting but you
fidget. That's lack of discipline. Or when you're trying to concentrate your mind you start thinking or wondering what you are going to have for supper,
well that's a sign of an undisciplined mind.

And in the same way when you're supposed to be meditating on absolute reality, you happen to reflect on a Buddha or Bodhisattva, well that is a sign of
an undisciplined mind. [Laughter] And if you're on the brink of realising Nirvana you have instead a vision of the Buddha, well that is a sign of an
undisciplined mind. (Laughter) So there are degrees or levels of undiscipline. Well, undiscipline accompanies you all the way through until
Enlightenment. (Pause)

__________: When you were questioned about the vision of the Virgin Mary you said that 'deeper levels were being approached, I wouldn't say higher
levels were being reached.' We often use deeper and higher as different ways of saying the same thing. What was the distinction you were trying to
make there?

S: I think when I spoke about deeper there I meant simply the psychological subconscious. Subconscious in the sense that there is a part, or if you like,
an aspect or a level of one's mind where impressions are retained of experiences that you've actually had in, as it were ( ). For instance I had seen a
picture or a painting or a reproduction of a picture or painting of say the Virgin Mary or whatever. But I had forgotten it, nonetheless it had left an
impression in, so to speak, my subconscious mind. That impression was capable of being revived if the appropriate stimulus was applied. In other
words I was capable of remembering it or calling it up before me. But inasmuch as it is an impression which originally ( ) n one's own
experience, I speak of the subconscious.

And when I speak of the higher states of consciousness I speak of states above those which pertain to one's normal waking state. But of course, yes, I
have mentioned this I think it's in 'The Journey to Il Convento', that one can use the language of the heights or the language of the depths, as it were,
interchangeably. If you look outside it seems higher. If you look within it seems deeper. Just as - if you're standing on the shore of a lake, on the
opposite shore there's a mountain, you look up to see that mountain. But if you look into the lake you see that mountain as far below you as it was in
fact above you. So that which is higher to you in reality or higher than you in reality when you look within yourself is perceived as beneath you. So it's
as though when we use objective language, when we're talking about degrees of reality in an objective sense, we use 'higher' in the same sense that when
we are talking about degrees of relative within us we use the term 'deepest'. So the subjectively deepest coincides with the objectively highest. So I can
use either language but one has to be careful ...

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