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Forest Monks of Sri Lanka - Part 3

by Sangharakshita

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... : Nagabodhi has a question on asceticism.

Nagabodhi : It is actually quite connected with this area. The practice of conspicuous asceticism seems to have played a crucial role in winning
the Tapassi monks favour with the laity in Sri Lanka. Here in England the Chithurst Forest monks have very quickly managed to capture the
imagination of the British public, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist with their own brand of emblematic asceticism. Would you like to comment
on this apparent universal appeal of robe and bowl? Do you think we could be doing any more than we are to communicate the radical
challenges and inherent demands of our approach to the spiritual path, in a way that might rouse more public interest and sympathy towards our

S: I think we probably could, but I'm really not sure what form that should take. Perhaps we should be a bit more experimental, cautiously
experimental, not recklessly or rashly experimental. For instance, the Hare Krishna, to go outside the Buddhist movement, have attracted a good
deal of attention and are identifiable but have they really established themselves, or are they really exerting any influence, I rather doubt it. For
instance the people who were running 'Process', in the days when we were starting up, they had very distinctive costume, they didn't last very
long. So I wonder really how useful all these things are in the long term.

But perhaps we should be trying to project a much more definite image of ourselves, I think by the very nature of the FWBO, that is difficult,
because we are a very many sided Movement, and we are growing more and more many sided. How do we project an image that suggests that
we emphasise the Going For Refuge, and the observance of precepts, and we are very clear about meditation, that we believe in communication,
and place a great emphasis on spiritual friendship, and we like to enlist the cooperation of the arts to the greatest extent that we can, that we are
international, that we believe in vegetarianism. How do we communicate all this in one image, as it were?

The other movements that I have mentioned, the Hare Krishna people, the Chithurst Monks, they have a much narrower scope. And the
Japanese Nichiren people, they have a much narrower scope, they blow just one trumpet, whereas we are a whole orchestra. So it is much more
difficult to make a strong, as it were, unified impression. But nonetheless, perhaps we should try at least to communicate some of our major
aspects in a more dramatic even, sort of way, a more immediately recognisable and identifiable sort of way.

Subhuti : Also I would question the assumptions behind your statements. I think that if Chithurst has captured the imagination it is simply
because they are colourful for the media, and I think they have also attracted a lot of opposition, a lot of people are quite hostile to them.

S: Do you mean local people, or generally?

Subhuti : I think generally, I find people's opinions are very much divided. A lot of people know about them, some think that they are just silly,
some are quite attracted to that asceticism. I think the other thing about them is that they are very vigorous. They get around and onto platforms,
which I think we could emulate.

S: Yes.


Nagabodhi : On the first part of my question, your comment on their success, I take those points, but nevertheless, they have had a Television
documentary made about them, they have had colour supplement features devoted to them, and I suspect for all their other work, it is the
emblematic nature of their asceticism. They have the robe and bowl, I think it is not just colour because I think such major elements of press
coverage of other equally colourful groups, it seems to have a universal appeal.

S: Well, years and years ago, it must have been twelve or fifteen years ago, there was a colour supplement feature on Samye Ling. But there
was just that one, and we have hardly heard anything since in that sort of way. You can't go on doing that sort of thing, I think it dies out after a
while. While it is news, but I think it can very quickly cease to be news. I would say that the public would not take the Chithurst monks as
emblematic of asceticism. I think they would just take them as emblematic, because they are very easily identifiable, and recognisable, and it is
very easy for the media to latch onto that or for people to latch onto that, ditto the Japanese.
But we are very much more difficult to latch onto, perhaps what you are saying is that we should make ourselves easier to latch onto, and
perhaps that is correct. But it will not be very easy to do that, because as I said, we are so many sided. I mean the narrower you are, the more
easily are you recognisable. For instance, if we were simply the Buddhists who believed in co-ops, or the Buddhists who believed in
vegetarianism, or we were the vegetarian Buddhists, then it would be much easier for us to have a recognisable identity, like the scientific
Buddhists you see, this is a very readily recognisable identity.

The same with the Zen people, they are just in favour of meditation, or that is how the public thinks of them. The Nichiren people, they just
wear funny white bonnets and chant (Namye Ro Rengye Ko), that is how they are recognised, but how do you recognise the FWBO? Because
you might get one Order Member who is deeply into the arts and poetry, and another who is really into meditation, and another who is really into
study, and another who sweats his guts out in a co-op, others are doing combinations of these things, others are on solitary retreat, others are
going off to India and America, (I was almost going to say Iceland). So we are a very many sided group, but I believe we are beginning to come
into the awareness of some people outside the FWBO, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. We are beginning to be recognised as some sort of
phenomenon that has to be taken account of, or taken into consideration. But it is not easy for people to get us into perspective, and get an all
round view of us, though Subhuti's book has helped in that way. But even Subhuti's book is far from reducing the FWBO to an easily
recognisable formula, or a particular emblem.

Devaraja : It was reported back to me, by someone who was at Chithurst, that Sumedho had said that of all criticisms that had been made of the
FWBO, WBO, and you, you had done something, you had created a Sangha.

S: That is only half the story, Sumedho did say this and that is actually a quite genuine report, that there were only two people who had
succeeded in founding Sanghas, one was Hugh Kennet, and the other was Sangharakshita. And he said that one had to admit that they had
succeeded in doing that, which no one else had succeeded in doing. This in a way was quite a handsome recognition.

Nagabodhi : Could I just ask you where he said that, in what context?

S: He has apparently said it to other monks, a monk was present who repeated it to me.

Padmaraja : What did Ananadamagala say to you and me Subhuti? He said that Sangharakshita had brought Buddhism to the west, do you
remember that bit? And he obviously meant it.

S: Yes well, we do have a few admirers, though Anandamangala is a bit of a lone wolf in that respect. He has his own sort of group around him,
but he certainly has not been able to set up a Sangha. He probably couldn't under those particular conditions. But he certainly does appreciate
what we have been able to do. There are a few others like that.

[End of Tape 11 Tape 12]

Devamitra : The next question comes from Kamalasila, it concerns the subject of expulsion.

Kamalasila : Oh, I thought I wasn't going to be asking that! I haven't got it today, sorry.

Devamitra : Then, we have a question from Sona on criminals.

Sona : Since some of the Tapasas were criminals, what position should we take if we discover that a mitra or a friend had committed a serious
criminal offence which had not been discovered by the authorities?

S: I believe in the case of the Tapasas they were allegedly criminals in some cases, I don't think it was ever proved, but anyway that is a separate
point. I must say I haven't considered this, what should we do if we find that there is someone amongst us with an undisclosed crime. But the
first thing that would occur to me would be that if that person had not disclosed the fact that he or she had committed that crime, at least to me
prior to ordination, I think it might even be considered as invalidating the ordination itself, inasmuch as they had not been completely open on a
matter of some importance, not only for them personally, but in fact to the whole Order and the whole movement. So I think that the position of
that ...

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