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Forest Monks of Sri Lanka - Part 3

by Sangharakshita

...
S: The fact that a Deva appears in this way doesn't necessarily mean that Pannananda was going to be reborn in heaven as distinct from say his
having attained the path of the Stream Entrant and so on. Supposing a Deva had said, "I shall come in three days and take you to heaven", well,
that is another matter, but he merely appears, and Devas appear on all sorts of occasions in connection with the life of the Buddha. So I don't
think one could say that because the Deva appeared in this way, it showed that Pannananda was going to be reborn in heaven, and in that sense
has not attained insight. On the other hand it doesn't demonstrate that he had attained insight, but it cannot be regarded as demonstrating that he
hadn't.

Devamitra : A question on the significance of dreams once more, from Achala.


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Achala : Carrithers quotes Leon Hudson's theory concerning two distinct types of dreams. One, those made up of primary visual experience;
two, the narrative of the dream into a coherent story.
Presumably the first, the primary visual experience, is of an emotional as well as visual nature, and provides the raw material for the narratives
of the second part of the dream. Do you think this theory is realistic, and is the predisposition for translating our experience into narratives, both
in the dream and waking states, as powerful a force in the moulding of our lives as the author suggests?

S: I hadn't come across this particular explanation of dreams. I must say I didn't feel completely happy with it. I think it is too unidimensional.
I have mentioned before that sometimes when one wakes up, one remembers ones dream, and one sees that one could describe one's dream in
two or three completely different ways, and they would all be true, even though in a sense they are self-contradictory, they are all true. But his
sort of theory of dream or the theory of dream which he uses, seems to suggest that there is only one sort of interpretation possible, just one
dream taking place in one sort of space time, which an be represented as one linear narrative. I think that does not do justice to the
multidimensional nature of the dream experience. So for that reason I am not too happy about his use of that particular theory. I don't see that it
is really very helpful. I think that we do tend to make narratives out of our experience, but I think there are two kinds of narrative: one is the
purely sequential, with one thing happening after another, the other is the more causative, with one thing happening after another because of
another, because of the thing that happened before. You see what I mean? m If you say, I went for a walk and I saw an oak tree, and then I
walked a little further and I saw a dog; well that is sequential narrative. But if you say that I went for a walk and I met a man and we had a
conversation, and because of what he said, I then decided to go to Norwich, well that is causative, and it is more of a story. It is a story perhaps
because it's distinct from a narrative, if one can use that terminology.

But I think neither probably do full justice to the dream experience. So I am not happy with the way in which he introduces these little bits and
pieces of psychological and sociological theory into his book. I don't think they are of any help at all, I think he would have done better to have
left them out. If we do write him up an account of at least some part of our discussions, perhaps this point should be made.

Devamitra : This is the last question, and is related to the previous question. It comes from Abhaya.

Abhaya : I think you may well have answered this, but in the next paragraph, or just after the dreams, he says : on page 86 : "The key, he goes on
to write, is that this narrative disposition is not merely passive but active, in so far as it enables human beings to make sense of experience, it
also enables them to guide themselves, to choose policies, to decide on their next move." I wonder if you would like to comment on that ?

S: Well obviously, we're all the time trying to make sense of our experience. I think one way is by reducing it to some kind of narrative.
Perhaps even to the story as I have said, to make it more intelligible, assimilable, and maybe we sometimes edit the story for our own benefit,
possibly unconsciously. So I think what he says in a general way is correct, though the way in which earlier on he linked that with a particular
dream theory, I feel wasn't so satisfactory. We tend to dramatise don't we? That is another form of interpretation. We like to make our experience
more interesting perhaps, more impressive than it actually was, especially when we are narrating it to another person. I think we can very
quickly edit things in our own mind too. We can can edit out things that we are not too happy with, and we can edit in things that we would have
liked to have been there. Sometimes in recounting a discussion with another person, sometimes you will be careful to see that you got the better

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of the discussion, you got the better of the other person in that discussion, whereas actually the other person may not have been under that
impression at all. Or perhaps the third person who might have been present was not under that impression at all.

You might edit your reckoning in such a way as to present yourself with a clear victory. But we are doing this all the time in all sorts of ways.
We are interpreting our experience, editing our experience, making it meaningful to ourselves in a certain way, not necessarily positive, not
necessarily skilful.

Abhaya : Do you think that there is any truth in the epigraph, he quotes John McClaren says, " It seems to me that story telling comes partly
from an urge to make an organised narrative out of chaos."

S: Yes I think that this is true. It's one way of organising the chaos.

Abhaya : Do you feel that this is what is happening all the time, that one is making an organisation out of chaos?

S: I won't say that that is only what is happening all the time, but I think that is one of the things that is happening at least much of the time. For
instance supposing you write a report of the Centre activities for the last year, you don't just put down isolated facts. You try to make sense of it,
you try to make a sort of logical sequence of it, you try to make a story of it. In a sense that may falsify it because it may in a way give a wrong
impression, or distribute the emphasis wrongly. But you can't really help doing that, and sometimes the way in which you cast the story tells a
lot about you, and therefore tells a lot about what you were doing in connection with that whole series of events, and in that way indirectly cast
quite a good light on the events themselves. Do you see what I mean?

Abhaya : But without writing it down? Without writing it down, you couldn't ( ) life is in a way like the living out of a story,
which as you say we are constantly editing. Then it is just a constant sort of embroidering.

S: Yes, of course when you edit you may not be living out the same story as when you actually performed those actions. It does get a little
complicated. But I think you can hardly make sense of anything without a bit of editing. As I said, when you write the annual report of the
Centre, you'll try to make it meaningful, you'll try to make it make sense, you won't just present your audience, or your reader with just
disconnected facts. You will present facts yes, but they will be embedded in a particular interpretation, a particular slant, a particular way of
looking at that material. You will leave certain things out. You cannot but do that, especially if you have to compress the whole report into two
pages. You cannot but write a story basing yourself upon that particular material. And different people might write quite different stories. I think
perhaps we are not always fully aware of the amount of subjective interpretation in what we think of as something quite objective, or objective
presentation of the facts.

But sometimes of course, that interpretation can give a truer feeling of what happened, than a listing of disparate facts. (Pause) I am quite
conscious of this in writing my memoirs. I'm trying to put everything in, but of course I can't put absolutely everything in, I don't remember it
for one thing. But I am trying to not consciously slant things. I can't help doing it to some extent, but I am trying not to do it deliberately.

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Otherwise I could write quite a romantic account of my experiences in Kalimpong, and leaving out all the more mundane things, and just
concentrate on all the great Lamas ...

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