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Confession - from the Sutra of Golden Light

by Sangharakshita

Sangharakshita in Seminar

The Sutra of Golden Light:
Chapter Three: The Chapter on Confession
Second Transcriptions Edition
Held at: Sukhavati, East London, in December 1976Those present: Sangharakshita, Aryamitra, Uttara, Vimalamitra, Graham Steven, Dave Living, Alan
Angel, Tim McNally, Phil Shrivell
[Numbers in square brackets refer to the page numbers of the first edition. These original page numbers
are still used in the ‘Unedited Seminar Index’, available separately from Transcriptions]
Sangharakshita: All right, we’re going to do Chapter Three of the Sutra of Golden Light. It’s the
chapter on confession. We are going to direct our attention mainly to the confession itself. There will be
quite a lot to discuss there. So we’ll go through the first couple of paragraphs reasonably quickly so as
to get on to the confession itself. Let’s read round the circle a paragraph at a time.
Then indeed the Bodhisattva Ruciraketu slept. In the middle of his sleep he saw a golden
drum, made of gold, shining everywhere just like the orb of the sun. And in all the
directions he saw innumerable, incalculable Buddhas, sitting on beryl seats at the foot
of jewelled trees surrounded (and) honoured in an assembly of numerous hundreds of
thousands, preaching the Law.
S: I’ve had something to say about this in the lectures, haven’t I? Most of you must have heard those.
So we’ve had some idea of what the ‘golden drum, made of gold, shining everywhere just like the orb
of the sun’ means, and so on. I wonder whether these sentences suggest anything else to anybody -
whether anybody has any other associations, any associations of their own. Suppose you had a dream,
suppose you dreamt about a golden drum shining just like the sun, what do you think it would convey
to you - what do you think it would mean or how do you think you’d take it when you woke up in the
morning? What sort of significance do you think it would have for you? Anything special?
Vimalamitra: Something very special - something very important. Something quite vital.
S: And if you saw innumerable, incalculable Buddhas in all directions sitting on beryl seats, what do
you think that would convey to you - what sort of feeling do you think you would get? I think you’d
probably get a feeling that some extraordinary revelation was about to be made to you, something of that
kind. And this is, of course, what Ruciraketu must have felt. All right, go straight on, then. [2]
And there he saw a man with the form of a brahmin, beating that drum. There from the
sound of the drum he heard these (and) similar confessional verses coming forth. Then
indeed the Bodhisattva Ruciraketu, as soon as he awoke, recollected these verses of
confession of the Law. Having recollected them, at the end of that night he departed from
the great city of Rajagrha with numerous thousands of beings. He came to Mount
Grdhrakuta, where the Lord was, and having approached and worshipped the feet of the
Lord with his head, he thrice walked round the Lord towards the right and sat down on
one side. Sitting on one side, the Bodhisattva Ruciraketu made the respectful gesture
with his hands towards the Lord and uttered these confessional verses that he had heard
in the middle of his sleep from the sound of the drum.
S: This is quite straightforward, isn’t it? But does the man with the form of a Brahmin beating the drum
suggest anything in particular to you?
Vimalamitra: He’s the kind of orthodox Indian idea of religion, isn’t it? The preacher of the truth.
S: Possibly. A man with the form of a Brahmin but why not a monk?
Dave Living: They didn’t have monks in those days.
S: Yes, they had monks in those days. It’s a monk who is the preacher of the Sutra later on, we find, so
why a Brahmin?
Vimalamitra: Maybe it represents the true Brahmin.
S: Maybe it represents the true Brahmin? But even then, why a true Brahmin - why not a true monk?

Tim McNally: Maybe it’s the archetypal teacher, where the monk is just a monk.
S: A Brahmin is a Brahmin! [Laughter]
Tim McNally: But the Brahmins seem more often than not teachers.
S: Yes.
Aryamitra: It’s also more traditional, isn’t it?
S: More traditional, I think it’s more to do with that - that the Brahmin, as it were, is a more archaic
image. A monk is something comparatively recent. So in dreams you tend to get more archaic images,
don’t you, a dream is of that nature. So, for instance, if you were to have a dream yourself, a sort of
archetypal [3] dream, the chances are you wouldn’t dream about a Buddhist temple, you’d find yourself
in the middle of some beautiful cathedral. So why is that? Because you’ve been brought up with a
cathedral having religious and spiritual associations. That is deeply ingrained in your unconscious mind
even though you are a Buddhist, yes? But maybe your unconscious mind hasn’t been converted. You still
go on thinking in terms of cathedrals and stained glass windows and things of that sort. So it’s probably
the same with Ruciraketu. Sure he was a Buddhist, he was a Bodhisattva, but his unconscious mind no
doubt retained all these archetypal images, as it were. For him a Brahmin was a religious symbol, so
when he had a dream it was a man in the form of a Brahmin beating on the drum. Just as if you had a
dream, well, you might find yourself in a magnificent cathedral, not in a beautiful Buddhist temple. I
think it’s something of that sort. The significance is the same but the associations are different.
Vimalamitra: So it’s the collective unconscious?
S: It’s more like that. In Jungian terms you can call it the collective unconscious. [Pause] So anyway,
he has the dream and he goes to tell the Buddha all about it. Let us go on to the next paragraph, then, and
see what he tells the Buddha.
‘One night when I was not tired I fell asleep and saw a gleaming drum with a golden
light everywhere. Shining like the sun it beamed everywhere. It glowed in the ten
directions. I saw Buddhas everywhere. They were sitting on jewelled trees and on beryl
seats at the head of an assembly of numerous hundreds of thousands. I saw one in the
form of a brahmin beating the drum, and while it was being struck by him, these verses
came forth:
S: So that’s more or less a repetition of what was said before. He is just recounting the dream to the
Buddha, except that here the Buddhas sit on the jewelled trees, which seems a bit odd. But anyway
dreams are like that. Perhaps he was sitting on it rather than at the foot of it. So then the verses came
forth, these are the famous confessional verses.
Aryamitra: I didn’t hear the lectures. Did you go into the [4] fact that he was not tired?
S: I did say something about this a little later on. ‘One night when I was not tired’ - so what does that
suggest, that he wasn’t tired?
Aryamitra: Well, it was like he didn’t fall asleep. In a way, it was more of a trance or revelation.
S: Yes.
Aryamitra: He wasn’t fatigued, necessarily.
S: Yes, so that it wasn’t an ordinary dream. It did occur to me afterwards that the dream is a sort of
literary convention. For instance Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a dream, isn’t it? Then Piers Plowman
is a dream. I think Dante’s Divine Comedy is a dream, also. Certainly Bunyan and Piers Plowman. So
the dream suggests some sort of other level of reality. And very often the person falls asleep during the
day, on a pleasant summer afternoon and has the dream.
Dave Living: Alice in Wonderland.
S: That’s a dream, is it? Anyway, this is one night certainly when I was not tired I fell asleep and saw
a gleaming drum with a golden light everywhere’. What sort of symbol do you get in association with
drum, what sort of shape do you see?
Graham Steven: Cylindrical.

S: Cylindrical.
Uttara: A round one that’s small.
S: I think what one is in a sense intended to see is something spherical. Because the drum is suspended,
even if it’s a cylindrical drum you see it endways so that it looks round to you. Why I say this is that
sometimes the setting sun is described as looking like a great golden drum suspended from a thread. So
clearly if the drum is cylindrical one sees it endways so that it looks round. And the drum is compared
with the sun, isn’t it? So this suggests roundness.
Vimalamitra: Is that the kind of shape of drums in those days?
S: Well, I think the drums in those days were shaped the same as they are now.
Aryamitra: They’re usually tapered in the middle, aren’t they, if they were two-ended they’re usually
- you see what I mean, if you had the flat drum surface there they tapered and went out again.
S: If you looked at it endways you’d see something round, [5] wouldn’t you? That’s with the cylindrical
drum. I think what they have in mind here is a big sort of kettle drum, quite large and suspended from
Dave Living: It’s not the same as the Nichiren monks have - like a tennis racket?
S: Ah, that’s quite different, yes, that’s quite different. That isn’t ...

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