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Confession - from the Sutra of Golden Light

by Sangharakshita

... monks have - like a tennis racket?
S: Ah, that’s quite different, yes, that’s quite different. That isn’t Indian at all as far as I know. I think
that is purely Japanese, if not Chinese. As far as I know they’ve never had that sort of drum in India.
Dave Living: It’s the same sort of principle.
S: Yes, in a way, because it’s something that you beat, but it isn’t hollow like a drum, it’s just two-
dimensional like a tambourine. [Pause]
All right, let’s go on to the confessional verses.
By the excellent drum of golden light let the woes in the triple-thousand world be
suppressed, the woes in the evil states, the woes in the world of Yama and the woes of
poverty here in the threefold world.
S: So what does that suggest? I mean, ‘by the excellent drum of golden light may these woes’ of
different kinds ‘be suppressed’ - what does that suggest about the drum itself, and its significance?
Graham Steven: That it has the capability of wiping out those woes.
S: So what does that tell you about it if it has that sort of capability - what does it seem to represent,
then?
Graham Steven: Power.
Uttara: Compassion.
S: Well, these are all qualities. But power and compassion of what?
Tim McNally: The Absolute.
S: It’s more like the Absolute, yes, more like the Buddha or the Dharma. So you begin to see what the
drum of Golden Light represents. ‘By the excellent drum of golden light let the woes in the triple-
thousand world be suppressed, the woes in the evil states, the woes in the world of Yama and the woes
of poverty here in the threefold world.’ What are these evil states?
__________: Well, the six states on the Wheel of Life.
S: No, not all of them. It’s the three that are called [6] (vatis?) or ill-farings, or upayas, the downfalls.
That is to say the world of the asuras, the Hungry Ghosts and the beings in Hell - these are the evil states.
Ultimately, of course, you have to get out of all five or six, but these are the evil states. [Pause] So ‘By
the excellent drum of golden light let the woes in the triple-thousand world be suppressed, the woes in
the evil states, the woes in the world of Yama and the woes of poverty here in the threefold world.’ So
as yet the aspiration isn’t very high, as it were. Do you see this? There’s just an aspiration, just a prayer

that these woes, these worldly woes, may be suppressed. There isn’t any reference to the attainment of
any sort of higher spiritual state. That would come later. Right, carry on with the next sentence, then.
And by this resounding of the sound of the drum may all troubles in the world be
suppressed, may beings be without fear, free of fear just as great sages are without fear,
fearless.
S: So it’s repeated, as it were, three times ‘... free of fear just as great sages are without fear, fearless.’
So what do you think this is doing, what’s the intention here? It’s as if to emphasise the importance of
fearlessness. I think I’ve mentioned before now that abhaya or fearlessness is mentioned very often in
Buddhism, certainly more than you find it in Christianity. Do you get in Christianity, for instance, many
references to being fearless, free from fear?
Aryamitra: In fact you get the reverse, don’t you, with God-fearing.
S: Yes, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Yes? But in Buddhism, in the Buddha’s teaching,
there are quite a number of references to one being free from fear. I think I’ve mentioned that this is one
of the things that the Bodhisattva gives as dana, as it were, it’s the abhayadana, the gift of fearlessness
where by his mere presence he creates confidence and removes people’s fear.
Dave Living: Is this because fear stops mindfulness?
S: Yes, and after all what is fear basically - what are you afraid of, or afraid for?
Uttara: Afraid of losing yourself.
S: You’re afraid for yourself. You’re not usually afraid for other people except in so far as you identify
with them. [7]
Uttara: Anagarika Dharmapala, I think, in the little book you wrote or the wee pamphlet, he goes into
that, when he experienced some ... I think it was at a funeral ...
S: Ah, yes, right.
Uttara: ... and after that he was fearless.
S: Yes.
Uttara: I think it was just an experience of the whole ...
S: I remember an instance in Kalimpong where somebody whom I knew died. It was an Englishwoman,
an elderly Englishwoman who had come out to Kalimpong and I got to know her there and she in the
end became a Buddhist, and I happened to come back from Calcutta one day and the first news I got on
my return was that this lady - Miss Barclay her name was - had died suddenly and that there was a
dispute about the body because the local Catholic Christians were claiming it and wanted to give it
Christian burial. But my students were resisting and saying that no, she had become a Buddhist. So I
hurried straight up to her house and I found several local Christians there, local Catholics, plus a number
of my students, all Buddhists, and the police. [Laughter] So as I entered the police inspector said to me,
‘Can you tell me what religion this lady followed?’ So I said, ‘Oh, yes, she was Buddhist.’ [Laughter]
So my students said, ‘There, we told you so, we told you so!’ So then the police officer said, ‘Ah, but
can you prove it?’ So there all the Catholics smiled, you see, so I said, ‘Yes.’ So then the police inspector
said, ‘Well, can you produce the proof in the police station tomorrow morning?’ ‘Yes, certainly.’ But
actually I had an application form from her - we had an organisation called the Young Men’s Buddhist
Association and she’d become a member and she’d signed the application form and where it said
‘Religion’ she’d filled in ‘Buddhist’ and signed it.[Laughter] So I had this, you see, so anyway - to cut
a long story short - we claimed the body. [Laughter] We took it from the mortuary at the hospital back
to the YMBA as it was then, the Young Men’s Buddhist Association, so there was nowhere else to lay
out the body except a ping-pong table [Laughter]. So we laid her out there and the funeral had been
announced for early that afternoon, so a lot of people came. But the point I want to make was this, she’d
known quite a few Christians, including missionaries, in [8] the area and they all gathered in the sitting
room and there were many of my students who had also known her. So the local custom is that before
someone is cremated you just go and have a last look at them. So all my students who were young
Nepalese and Tibetans and Bhutanese and what-not, they were quite keen on having a last look at Miss
Barclay. She’d been quite a good friend to them, she’d often invited them for tea, so they were all going
into the ping-pong room, into the games room, and having a look at her. ‘Oh, she looks OK - quite
peaceful, you know ... cremated this afternoon ...’ sort of thing. They were quite used to it. But when I

asked the Christian missionaries - they were mostly ministers and, you know, people like that, ‘Would
you like just to go in and have a look at Miss Barclay?’ ‘Oh, no, thank you.’ [Laughter] They were
clearly afraid - they had this fear of death or anything to do with death, and that was very noticeable. Not
one of them went in and looked at her. They were just afraid to, but all these quite ordinary young
Nepalese and Tibetan students, they went in and had a look without any hesitation. It was all, well, not
exactly in the day’s work, they were accustomed to this. This is what happened at home if their
grandfather died, or their great-aunt, there’s always this, go and have a look. Death was a natural thing,
it was part of life There was nothing especially to be afraid of, you all died one day, everybody knew
that. But these missionaries, even though they were supposed to be preaching religion, preaching
Christianity, they were afraid and this was very marked, very evident.
And whether this is anything to do with Christianity or maybe something more to do with modern life
itself, not to do with Christianity as such, it’s difficult to say. But certainly there seems to be much more
fear in the minds of people in the West in this sort of way. But there is fear in everybody, otherwise
Indian Buddhist texts like this wouldn’t mention the giving of fearlessness and that ‘... by this
resounding of the sound of the drum may all trouble in the world be suppressed, may beings be without
fear, free of fear just as great sages are without fear, fearless.’ So fearlessness is considered quite
important among Buddhists, and wherever there is the influence of Buddhism it does make in the
direction of fearlessness, especially fearlessness in the face of things like death. So it’s quite important
and very often we don’t realise the extent to which we are under the influence of fear and worry and
anxiety. Not very many people are [9] completely free from fear, even free from worry. To be fearless
is quite an achievement, if you’re fearless you’re practically enlightened. ...

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