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Diamond Sutra - Part 7 Unchecked

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

I ~ Shantiprabha:
Is there traditionally a specific time betweer\~say, the
death of the doctrine and the appearance of Maitreya.
S.: Some traditions say a further 2500 years. Anyway, let's have a look at this (enter
Buddhist Texts).
Subhuti:Which one is it?
S.: 22. Is it from the Anagatavamsa by any chance? (Subhuti: Yes) Oh, well, that's a very
late work. It just about crept into the Khuddaka Nikaya. (Laughter) Yes, Anagatavamsa.
Yes this is very late indeed. It's one of the very latest works of the Pali Canon. The account
in a way seems quite rational - '-disappearance of attainments, spiritual attainment,
disappearance of pro~per -conduct of learning of out- ward form and then even the relics.'
But it doesn't speak of periods of 500 years. "Here for attainm~ent ineans for a thousand
years only after the Lord's complete Nirvana will monks be~ able to practiSe analytical
insights." Anyway, Buddhism does accept that the sasana will decline, not the Dharma. One
must be careful in what terms one speaks. The sasana will decline1 but is it inevitable? I
suppose in a sense it is, in the sense that all mundane things do decline, do change, do pass
away. But why should that be in the case of the Sasana? Why should that be in the case of
Buddhis, let's say, to distinguish Buddhism from the Dharma.
Even if Dharma as a spiritual principle you know, cannot decline, well, why should
Buddhism as a religion ever decline?
Dhirananda: It's that it's conditioned. As Buddhists therefore, like everything else its...
S.: (interrupting) Well is it or is that not sort of to reify too much. I mean is there such a thing
as Buddhism - a thing which is conditioned and which therefore, can decline after a while.
What does it mean? the decline of Buddhism? This is really the question that we are looking
too.
Subhuti:
It means that individua~ aren't developing or developing less and less.
S.: Yes, so that is to say individuals are making less use of the Dharma, but why do they do
that? Why should that happen at all? Supposing you've got 500 Arahants in this generation,
why should there not be 500 arahants or even more in the next generation? Why should there
be, for instance, only 300 and in the generation after that only 200 and so on why should that
happen?
DS 7 1 22 Why should not the number of enlightened beings progress by what is it
called? Exponential progression - why not?
Gerry: Is it the pull of the conditioned?
S.:
Well, one can speak of the pull of the conditoned, but wasn't that equally operative in
the first generation.
Gerry: But the Buddha was around then.
S.:
Well, the Arahants are also enlightened. (~erry: But in a different wa~ Not
sufficiently one would have thought. I mean the Dharma is there. So why should the Dharma
decline? Wh~should Buddhism decline rather? Does seem a bit of a mystery doesn't it?
What I'm sort of in a sense emphasiz- ing is, we shouldn't assume that the concept of the
decline of Buddhism is something that is completely intelligible, that we know exactly what
is meant by the decline of Buddhism. Well, in a sens e we do, but in a sense we don't. No
doubt Buddhism declines when people no longer practise it~but why do they no longer
practise it? Is it just a matter of accidents -accidents happening generation after ~eration or is
there a sort of accumulation of accidents and the result is hardly anybody in the end of
practising the Dharma and therefore, Buddhism practically dis- appears?
Voice: Maybe people's minds have got lazy through things like TV.
S.:
But then decline started long, long before TV came. In fact it was accomplished
apparently long before TV came in. In the Buddha's day, they could have put it down to the
introduction of writing.
Subhuti:
But you could see it on two levels, could't you? You could see it on the level
of Buddhism as a sort of cultural phenomenon. It's quite easy to see how that could decline
because political and social factors could be against it. What's harder to understand is why
there's no continuity of experience.
S.:
Why there's no renaissance arising out of that continuity of exper- ience. (Subhuti:
Yes) I think it has got something to do with what we may call crystallization, that is to say
the Dharma as a purely spiritual phenomenon, as a purely spiritual tradition, crystallizes in the
form of Buddhism and therefore, inevitably comes to be associated with that, Do you see
what I mean? And that may be an expression whic~is adequate for
DS 7 1 23 a certain timefl~ for certain people but not necessarily for all, but it has come to
be associated with that because that was the original
crystallization.
Subhuti:
It doesn't really sufficiently explain the phenomenon does it because it you've
got one enlightened individual teaching another enlight- ened individual then presumably
what ever the... (S.: That would be by- passed). Yes it would be fresh because there's a
continuity of experience.
S.:
But it could be that there are fewer people coming to those enlight- ened individuals
because they see as Buddhism a sort of crystallization which does not appeal to them, do you
see what I mean? It's as though in the course of generations Buddhism assumes inevitably
more and more of a set character - the fact taht's it's crystallized in one way originally tends to
prevent a different kind of crystallization in the future. It's as though the options have been
limited by the nature of the original cry- stallization. Do you see what I mean? For instance,
the mere fact that the Dharma crystallized in India 500 BC and the phenomenon say of
monas- ticism arose. It definitely historically crystallized in that particular way and it is very
diffiuclt to get away fro~that even now. It's very difficult to get away, say, in India at least ,
from yellow robes and shaven heads. People really think that this is Buddhism. I think
perhaps we have to find an explanation along some such lines.
Subhuti:
You'd think that in so far as the succeeding enlightened indivi- duals were
enlightened.
S.:
Yes. We understand that , explain it to people. But it is as though people , a broader
mass of people, have got this intense loyalty to the old forms. If you remember, to give an
example, from another tradit- ion entirely, that of the Russian Orthodox Church. Apparently
in the 17th century, a learned archbishop or head of the church or whatever, dis- covered that
when the priest gave the blessing with three fingers, this was wrong so he discovered that the
blessing should be given with two fingers and that this was correct and apostolic or canonical
but he had a terrible task, a terrible job introducing this refor m because people, quite
ordinary people, had become quite blind and ignorantly attached to this three finger blessing
and they took it to mean father, son and Holy Ghost s~hey thought that if the priest only
blessed them with only two fingers, they weren't getting the full blessing and something was
missing and this - what was his name - this rather strong-minded reforming patriarch
(Nikon?) - he had endless difficulty in forcing his reform and there was one arch priest called
(Athacum?) who stood against him
DS 7 I Q4 and became in effect the founder of the sect of the Old Believers who
stuck to the three-fingered blessing and other things. So this shows you how very difficult it
is even for the Enlightened or comparatively Enlight- ened u ~~~~etter-informed to make an
impression upon people who've attached themselves to a tradibon as it already exists..
Well, I found this when I came back to England in '64. This is one of the things that
shocked me that when my hair even grew, you know, it wasn't even half an inch, some people
started getting quite upset and quite disturbed even~hough that length was quite permiss~ble
even accord- ing to the Vinaya. But they thought it wasn't and they had quite ignor- ant sort
of devotion to what they thought was the Vinaya. So I think this can be a limiting factor.
Subhuti:You get(this bizarre phenomenon with Zen. A sort of protest against that kind of
crystallization - people being really insistent on the forms of Zen being observed.
S.:
Yes. So it's as though the mere fact that the Dharma crystallizes in a certain way
becomes a li~iting factor, and increasing~~limiting factor th~ more crystallizations take
place in consequence of that original crystallization, more and more along a particular line.
It's as though other lines in fact,although not in principle~are sort of exclued unless you've got
a very powerful personality sort of battling against that sort of circumscription of the
tradition. But do you see what I'm getting at? At every stage, you've got the weight of
tradition accum- ulating behind you to deal with.
Subhuti: I suppose that's in a way why we're in a ~uite priviledged position in a sense - we
don't have all that as ~r as Buddhism is concerned.
S.:
I mean, for instance, there's an illustration which is sometimes given - I might even
have thought of it myself - I'm not sure, - let's say someone throws some ink at a wall and it
makes a certain blotch - then he says, to somebody else;"come one, you throw some ink at the
wall just as I've thrown ...

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