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Transcribing the oral tradition...

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Forest Monks of Sri Lanka - Part 1

by Sangharakshita


Questions and Answers based on:
"The Forest Monks of Sri Lanka"
(An Anthropological and Historical Study)
by Michael Carrithers
Published by Oxford University Press, Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras 1983

Held at:Padmaloka Date: August 1985
Those Present: The Venerable Sangharakshita, (Chairmen's Study Retreat with Dharmacharis) Abhaya, Suvajra, Dharmapriya, Ratnavira,
Devaraja, Dhammaloka, Padmavajra, Aryamitra, Susiddhi, Achala, Nagabodhi, Kulamitra, Vessantara, Vajrananda, Tejananda, Devamitra,
Subhuti, Padmaraja, Kamalasila, Sona, Buddhadasa.

Devamitra: The first question comes from Padmavajra.

Padmavajra : Michael Carrithers maintains that the ideal of the Forest monks which comes from the Pali canon is not unitary, because of the
composite nature of the scriptures. What criteria should we apply to the Pali scriptures, to establish a unitary ideal, assuming that the unitary
ideal is desirable?

Sangharakshita (S:): I assume that what he was referring to is the fact that we find in the Pali Canon, with regard to the monastic life, in a
sense, more than one ideal. (pause) He is after all, talking about monks, especially forest monks. I have touched upon this more than once in my
various writings. For instance, in one part of the Pali Canon, the ideal will be that of the solitary monk. (pause). In some parts of the Pali
Canon, we have descriptions of the solitary monk, the muni, who wanders alone, even as the horn of the rhinoceros is single. So in a sense, that
seems to be the ideal, the ideal of the solitary monk. But again, in other sections of the same Pali Canon, the ideal seems to be that of the
coenobitical monk, the monk who is living in the midst of a community, a community of monks.

So in a way one has got two ideals, and certainly both of those ideals enter into the history of Buddhist monasticism, since that time, since the
time of the Buddha himself. But one may ask, in the case of that eremitical ideal, and the coenobitical ideal, has one in fact got two ideals? I
mean, normally one would perhaps speak of them as ideals, the ideal of the solitary monk, the wandering monk, the ideal of the monk living in
the midst of a spiritual community, a community of monks, but do they strictly speaking represent ideals.
I think, perhaps it could be said that they represent an ideal, possibly a unitary ideal, lived under the conditions of differing lifestyles, to use our
language. The ideal surely is enlightenment? The ideal surely is liberation? -in the case of the solitary monk, in the case of the coenobitical
monk. So I think it is possible to establish a unitary ideal, but only if one distinguishes very carefully between what is actually the ideal one is
trying to realise, and the means through or by which one is trying to realise that particular ideal. Of course later on in the history of Buddhism,
you get different ideals of enlightenment. You get the ideal of the Arahant, the ideal of the Pratyekabuddha, the ideal of the Samyaksambuddha.

But to my way of looking at it, that later development is in a way a deformation, if one takes them actually as separate, independent ideals. If
one looks at those three alleged ideals in terms of the Buddha's original teaching, as it appears to be, there can only be one ideal of
enlightenment, towards which every Buddhist is aspiring. But this enlightenment can be looked at in different ways, or from different points of

So maybe Padmavajra could read that part of his question, and we can then see how what I've just said fits and to what extent it replies to that

Padmavajra : The question really was; " what criteria should be applied to the Pali scriptures, to establish the unitary ideal."

S: You have for instance to look at what the Buddha says about the solitary monk, what he says about the monk living in the spiritual
community, and ask yourself, what do they have in common? Clearly, if one looks at all deeply into the matter, what they have in common is
their striving for enlightenment, their ideal is actually enlightenment. Living as a solitary monk, or living as a coenobitical monk is only a means
to that end. It is only a matter of lifestyle, even though the lifestyle is very important. So it would seem that in order to establish a unitary ideal,
you have to be able to distinguish between what is actually the ideal, and what are the means to the realisation of the ideal, including the
lifestyle, and you must not confuse the two, otherwise the means itself starts becoming the ideal. I mean as in the case very often of Theravada
Buddhism, even today, to be a monk is the ideal. It is not that Enlightenment is the ideal and that being a monk is a means or one of the means
to realise that ideal. In theory yes, people will say yes, enlightenment is the ideal, but in practice they really regard becoming a monk as the
ideal. (pause).

So therefore we might say, in the FWBO, it is not the ideal to live in a single sex community. It is not the ideal to live as a householder follower
of the FWBO or householder member of the FWBO. Those are not ideals, those are lifestyles. The ideal is to gain enlightenment, or at the very
least, the ideal is to gain stream entry, or on a lower level still so to speak, to go for refuge. But the ideal is not to live in a particular way, that is
only a means to an end, even though for very many people the means may coincide and the means may be indispensable, but nonetheless, it is
the means and not the end, and therefore not the ideal. Perhaps we should be more precise in our language. When we speak of the Ideal with a
capital 'I', it means Enlightenment, and when we speak of the ideal way of life, well it's a small 'i' and it's the ideal way of life for me at present
or for most people most of the time. But it's not the Ideal with a capital I, because it is a matter of lifestyle.

What was the rest of Padmavajra's question ?

Padmavajra : That's really it, actually.

Devamitra : Let's go on then, to a question from Kulamitra concerning the revival of a tradition, without kalyana mitrata.

Kulamitra : This, I think comes from the same passage that Padmavajra is referring to, where Carrithers says "The ideal was itself complex,
composed of different, and to an extent contradictory models, which had been laid one on top of the other in the course of Buddhist history, most

of them so long ago that the changes may reasonably be regarded as ancient." So the question is, "In order to make from this material in the Pali
Canon, a raft to reach the other shore, would one need the guidance of a Kalyana mitra who is linked to the tradition with insight?

S: The tradition having insight, or the kalyana mitra having insight?

Kulamitra: At least the tradition, at least the lineage as it were, having insight, I mean, presumably maybe the kalyana mitras themselves don't
actually have insight.......

S: Read that again.

Kulamitra : So the question, " In order to make from this material of the Pali Canon, a raft to reach the other shore, would one need the guidance
of a kalyana mitra, who was himself, or herself, linked to a tradition with insight?"

S : So one is thinking in terms of two things, a link with tradition, and insight. Is one considering the possibility that those two things might be
separate? Because clearly, you can be linked to a tradition in some way or other, without having insight, and perhaps even, you can have insight
without being linked to a tradition. So what is the first part of the question?

Kulamitra: Well the first part is, " In order to make from what he describes as the sort of varied material of the Pali Canon, an effective means
toward enlightenment......

S: So that presupposes that you are linked with a tradition already, in a sense, you have got some contact with it because you are trying to
construct, or thinking of constructing, out of the materials with which you are in touch or which are available to you, a raft. So in a sense, that
part of your question is answered, the question itself answers it. Do you see what I mean?

Kulamitra: Yes, I was thinking though, that if what he says about the written word of the tradition is true, then in a way, it can be a bit confusing.
Could you sort that out yourself? Or would you really need help from other people who had themselves had help from other people and so on.

S: I think it would depend who you were, because I think I can say ...

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