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Christchurch April 1979 - Questions and Answers

by Sangharakshita


The Venerable Sangharakshita

Question and Answer Session in Christchurch, New Zealand,
Wednesday 25th, April 1979

Please note that this transcript is the result of copy typing from a handwritten transcript taken from
tapes which are now missing.
Rather than leaving this material unavailable it is published in this form without its having been
checked against the original recording. Silabhadra

__________: ... See I was born in China among the Chinese people ... lived there up to sixteen years
of age and I lived there their religion is Buddhism. Chinese Buddhism of north China is not the same
Buddhism as Indochina not to say India ... unintelligible ... I believe in God, yes ... I don't know how
to explain it ...

Sangharakshita: So what's the question?

__________: towards the Christians yes ...

S: What's what actually is the question?

__________: ... sigh ... Well he believes in God too but you see Jesus Christ there is a Jesus Christ
there was a prophet but there is one God through the whole world, the whole universe ...

S: So what's the question?

__________: The question is, Shall I break away from the Christians and become Buddhist again ...

S: One can say this, in different parts of the world there are different religions, yeah, and most people
are born into one or another of these religions as a matter of sort of cultural heritage ... ah, if one is
born in a Christian country you are brought up as a Christian and you think you are a Christian if you
are brought up in China, in the old days at least you are brought up as a Buddhist you think that
you're a Buddhist. If you're brought up in India you think that you're a Hindu because you are
brought up as a Hindu. If you are born in say Iran or Turkey you are brought up as a Moslem and you
think you're a Moslem. So usually our religion comes to us by way of what we call cultural
conditioning. Mm, from the Buddhist point of view the Buddhist point of view is this, that your
religion can't really come to you in that sort of way. Your religion means basically your development
of yourself as an individual to higher and higher levels of moral and spiritual perfection Mm. So this
cannot be just a matter of blind following of a cultural heritage, for instance you are not a Buddhist
just because you are born in a Buddhist country, any more than you are a Christian just because you
happen to be born in a Christian country. What you've got to try to do is to develop as an individual.
If you find the religion into which you've been born helps fair enough you stick with that, but if you
find that it doesn't help you then you have to find some other religion, some other teaching, and this
is what happens with many people in the West nowadays, they find that Christianity no longer helps
them, doesn't help them to develop so they look around for something else, and some of them turn to
Buddhism. And of course this is what happens on a smaller scale here in New Zealand itself you
know, this is why some of you are here this evening I imagine.

__________: That's right, yes, I had some trouble (unclear)

S: Does it help you (unclear) if it does all right follow it, if it doesn't all right just disregard it and

look for something else.

__________: Hem, Could you outline a little bit about what is involved in being a Buddhist, the
practice of Buddhism.

S: If one wants to put this in just a few words ... In traditional terms being a Buddhist means what we
call Going for Refuge ... Being a Buddhist doesn't just mean being born in a Buddhist country or
brought up influenced by Buddhist culture. You're a Buddhist because you follow the path taught by
the Buddha, and is usually summarised as what we call the Going for Refuge; This is what makes a
Buddhist - a committing of yourself to what we call the Three Jewels, which represents very
particular ideals. There's the Jewel of the Buddha, the Jewel of the Dharma and the Jewel of the
Sangha. The Buddha jewel represents the ideal of the enlightened human being. According to the
Buddha's teaching the highest being in the universe is an enlightened human being. Buddhism
doesn't believe in a personal God who created the universe. Buddhism maintains the highest form of
life in the universe is an enlightened human being, so enlightened humanity, spiritually enlightened
humanity is the goal of every Buddhist. That is the highest ideal. To be a Buddhist means we accept
that ideal of enlightened humanity as the highest ideal for us and we devote ourselves to it, commit
ourselves to it, and that is what we mean when we say "to the Buddha for refuge I go". And then
secondly there's the Dharma jewel which represents the ideal of the path. In order to become more or
less spiritually perfect, in order to become enlightened you have to follow a specific path which
consists of ethical observance, which consists of the practice of meditation, and the development of
higher spiritual wisdom. And then the third jewel is the Sangha Jewel which represents the ideal of
spiritual community. This means that it is very difficult to make it just by yourself, you have to make
it, you have to realise the ideal by your own individual effort. If you can practise, if you can follow
that path, if you can aim at that ideal in company with others who are similarly motivated then you
get enormous spiritual strength and inspiration. So this is what we call the idea of the spiritual
community, that you're not alone, that you're a member of the spiritual community. So when we say
to the Sangha for Refuge I go it means we accept this ideal of spiritual community. If you accept the
ideal of enlightened humanity as the ideal for yourself, if you accept the ideal of a path leading to
that state, if you accept the ideal of the spiritual community, then you may consider yourself a
Buddhist. So clearly it's not a matter of cultural heritage or purely intellectual belief or philosophy.

__________: You say [unclear]

S: This is the traditional Buddhist belief, yes.

__________: Yeah, I have said ... correct me if I'm wrong ... how many different paths to the grave, I
think it is Buddhist, it was quoted to me as a Buddhist teaching, and what does it matter which way
you take it with the consequence that we're all going to die anyway ... and, why become enlightened
... but if you believe in an afterlife (unclear) .

S: There is a Buddhist tradition about the afterlife. The Buddha says quite clearly that according to
him there is an after life even in the form of repeated existences here on earth, the Buddha
emphasises a most important thing for a human being to do is to aim at the highest degree of moral
and spiritual perfection herein this life. If one does that then the whole question of life after death or
no life after death becomes less and less important. And I must say myself like the Buddha says I
believe in life after death but it isn't very important to me. Even if I suddenly discover that there was
no life after death I'd still follow the path that I follow now because that path is intrinsically good, to
follow regardless of what happens to you after death.


__________: I believe in [unclear] my soul.

S: You see what we know is we're going to die but we don't know when. We might die tomorrow, we
can't guarantee we won't die tomorrow, does that mean we're not going to do anything today, live our
life regardless in the best possible way, each day that we wake up we make the most of that day.

__________: ... I'd like to make the individual to society, I'd like to make my own wishes as an ego
to societies wishes, if you have a certain concept of reward and punishment and about life after death
then you are ... on yourself.

S: I would rather not think of the spiritual life in terms of reward and punishment. For me personally
that doesn't mean very much, in fact if you only develop because if you don't you'll be punished then
it's not really development, you just been conditioned in a particular kind of way ... your own inner
development comes from the depth of yourself because you feel that that is what you really want to
do what is best for you, you evolve naturally, maybe you are going to die but meanwhile you unfold
as a human being just as flower unfolds ... except for the human being it is a result of conscious
effort. But even if you do and there's nothing after that conscious effort to evolve will have been
worthwhile, in fact it is what makes life worth living. As a being you evolve and you go from level to
level.

__________: You say to develop you have to sacrifice other things.

S: I haven't said that.

__________: Well, you have to sacrifice to develop ...

S: I don't use also the language of sacrifice, I said just now I don't use the language of reward and
punishment or even the language of sacrifice that belongs to another tradition. There are things that
you have to give up, eh, there are things you will want to give up, but that's ...

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