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Forest Monks of Sri Lanka - Part 4

by Sangharakshita

... expect the religious person to justify
himself and justify his life on their terms. I think they would not only definitely expect that, but bring pressure to bear upon one to act in
accordance with their ideas.

Nagabodhi : If compassion is one element of the ultimate spiritual ideal, is it not to some extent fair to expect of the spiritually committed that
their spiritual development will result in compassionate activity, which could be measured through their impact on society?

S: Yes but not as it were to provide material goods for the sake of providing material goods, not that the spiritual community can't render
material help, or help on all sorts of levels, But it does that not because it regards that sort of help as an end in itself, but as a means to something
further, or as providing a base for something further. Supposing you were with people who were hungry people, who were starving, well
however much you wanted to preach the Dharma to them and though you regarded that as the best thing that you could do for them, in the
meantime you would provide them with food. But you would provide them with food, not so that they could engage in unskilful activities, but
in order that hopefully they would be ready to listen to the Dharma.

Nagabodhi : Could I push on a little bit further? Taking into account what you said about the other night, about the infinitely expanding field of
responsibility. One may alleviate immediate suffering in one's own province of activity, but in the modern world where one is aware of all the
other provinces that exist, again could one not be expected to try and fulfil at least that primary stage of alleviating immediate suffering?

S: Well, one might say who is this impersonal 'one'? If one follows that line of argument to its logical conclusion, we should all be trying to
raise funds to relieve famine in Ethiopia or something of that sort. But I think that at least some people need to devote themselves almost
exclusively to the propagation of spiritual principles and the inculcation of a spiritual way of life, because that is so entirely lacking in large
sections of the population of the world today. At the same time there are new large sections of the population in the west who are living in

affluence who are in danger of forgetting any higher principle at all. So I think in the circumstances, it is a good thing that at least some people,
even though recognising the need to function on the level of famine relief and so on, nonetheless do concentrate their efforts on bringing home to
people spiritual truths, because that is in the long run the most important thing. There are quite a lot of other people looking after the material
needs of society.

Devamitra : Moving on to another area, Padmavajra has a question on pupillary succession.

Padmavajra : On page 140 "Though monks do form small groups organised by pupillary succession, effective control within such a group, does
not usually survive the death of the eldest". Would you care to comment on this sentence? Is there something here our own pupillary succession
could learn from?
S: "Though monks do form small groups organised by pupillary succession," What does one mean by that? A small group organised by
pupillary succession?

Padmavajra : Is this not the idea of nikaya which you mentioned?

S: No I think it's on a much smaller scale than that. For instance you might say a certain bkikkhu, a certain elder bhikkhu, has a number of
disciples, perhaps whom he has educated or whom he has trained, whose higher ordinations he has arranged, or perhaps participated in, perhaps
resided at. So let's say he has a group of ten or twelve disciples, so they form a small group. So during his lifetime, all is well, they are all his
pupils, they are all his disciples. So the fact that he is their teacher holds them all together, they all look up to him, they all defer to him.
Perhaps he has a disciple who is regarded as the chief disciple, who inherits the temple, this is very often what happens, the chief or senior
disciple inherits the temple from his teacher. But on the death of the teacher there is the danger that that little group may break up because it's
been held together by him. Well it may survive for instance his death, and if he has a senior disciple who is a capable person, that person will
manage to hold the group together. But supposing he dies, and also in the meantime he might well have ordained his disciples, disciples of his
own. So then he would be on the one hand, the seniormost surviving disciple, and the other disciples might look up to him. But he would also
have his own disciples who looked up to him in a different kind of way, and the two groups might not coalesce, and might coexist rather
uneasily. And after his death, the death of that senior disciple who had his own pupils separately, subsequently, the two groups might drift apart,
there might even be quarrels and disputes. So I think this is the sort of thing that Carrithers has in mind.

"Though monks do form small groups organised by pupillary succession, effective control within such a group, does not usually survive the
death of the eldest". I think this is what he is getting at. But there was a further question wasn't there?

Padmavajra : Would you care to comment on this sentence? Is there something here our own pupillary succession can learn from?

S: I think what is to be learned is the fact that some kind of structure is needed. It's as though you just can't hope that the chief disciple of the
chief disciple will be able to carry on automatically and keep things together. It doesn't seem to work like that in the context of this egalitarian

Sangha. Egalitarian in the sense that I've defined.

Devamitra : The next question comes from Aryamitra on inherent decay in the Sangha.

Aryamitra : It's on the first page, second paragraph, Carrithers states that; "the process of decay, which the reformers criticise, can be shown to
be inherent in Buddhism". I wondered if it can and whether he does actually show that, other than it being like Buddha said one day the teaching
will die out, other than that.

S: Yes, I think what he has in mind is the actual organisation or non-organisation of the Sangha. Because it's as though there was provision in
the Vinaya for the functioning of the small independent units, the local Sanghas within their respective avasas. But there was no provision for
the overall functioning of the Sangha after the Buddha's death. the Buddha appointed no leader, no head of the Sangha.

After the Buddha's death of course, energetic monks did sometimes with a great deal of effort, bring monks from a number of places all together,
and they then took joint decisions, decisions affecting the whole of the Sangha. But that was something exceptional, and it seems to me that this
is perhaps one of the reasons why the Buddha emphasised the importance of the bhikkhus meeting together repeatedly and in large numbers. Do
you see what I mean? There is a sort of parallel with the Western Buddhist Order, though no doubt we will undergo further evolution one might
say, because we have got chapters of the Order haven't we, and those chapters meet regularly. So they can conduct their business and conduct
their affairs quite independently, but we haven't as yet fully evolved a sort of machinery of consultation and decision making within the Order as
a whole. We've got a few 'ad hoc' arrangements, for instance we sound out the Chairmen, not as it were in their capacity as Chairmen but as
senior and responsible Order Members. Sometimes we circularise the chapters to elicit their views on particular topics, we did this in connection
with the arrangements for the Convention. Do you see what I mean? So there isn't yet any sort of regular structure at the level of the Order as a
whole. That has not yet been evolved. So in the case of the Sangha in the Buddha's day, I think one of the reasons for the Buddha emphasising
the importance of the monks getting together regularly in large numbers, was so that monks belonging to different avasas, could get to know one
another, and share a greater sense of the unity and solidarity of the Sangha, and perhaps have an opportunity of coming to decisions which
affected the Sangha as a whole as distinct from the Sangha identified with a particular avasa.

But unless you have an overall structure, there is a danger that this chapter will go in this direction, and that chapter will go in that direction. Do
you see and this chapter will decide that they are all going to wear red robes, that chapter will decide they are all going to wear blue robes, that
chapter will decide they will do their Order Metta on Saturday, another chapter decides ...

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