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Forest Monks of Sri Lanka - Part 6

by Sangharakshita


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[Tape 21]


Questions and Answers on

The Forest Monks of Sri Lanka

Chapter 11

15th August 1985

Devamitra : This evening we have nineteen questions which come from the chapter on meditation. The first question comes from Kamalasila
concerning the myth of the decline of man.

Kamalasila : The decline of man's moral and intellectual capabilities mentioned on page 222 seems to be a very widespread myth. Could you
say something about it's meaning? Is it literally true?

S: Well Carrithers refers to the Buddhist version of the myth so to speak, but in a way he only refers to half of it. It is true that Buddhist
tradition does speak of the progressive degeneration of man in terms of length of life for instance. But it also speaks of a period of degeneration
alternating with a period of progression, with reference for instance to the span of life itself. Over a certain period the span of life decreases I
think from some thousands of years to ten and then when it reaches ten it builds up again to thousands of years. So it is not correct to say that
Buddhism speaks only in terms of a decline of man, it sees throughout history, at least legendary history, if one can use that expression,
alternating phases of decline and progression.

Nonetheless there is another level that should perhaps be mentioned. A level that is represented by some of the teachings in the Aganna Sutta,
where Buddhism does seem to envisage man as originating, if that is the right term, at least partly as the result of the fall of deva like beings
from higher realms of existence, into lower realms of existence. It is not as though the lower realms are already made, it is more as though the
lower realms themselves were produced partly as the result of the involvement of those devas in lower realms of existence. So that has to be
borne in mind too.

I don't think that a completely philosophical cosmology has been worked out by Buddhist thinkers. They inherit these traditions, but they don't
seem to do very much with them. But even with regard to those devas who became involved with existence on a lower level of spiritual density
let us say, the possibility of escape via the eightfold path, the escape to the transcendental, not merely to a higher plane of mundane existence,
does of course exist. So perhaps Carrithers is being a bit one sided in speaking only of the process of decline. There is a process of decline, but
only within a particular limited context.

Kamalasila : So there is a process of decline?

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S: There is a process of decline nonetheless over a period of many thousands of years, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of years.
Taking simply that particular phase as it were, the phase of decline, it does seem to be an extraordinarily widespread myth. It could be that it
reflects something of that in a sense more basic myth of a descent of what became human beings from some higher realm, and becoming
progressively more involved in the purely material level of existence. I have studied some of these texts and I have been thinking this over for
some time. I have had it in my mind to write something about this for some time, but it requires still further thought and investigation. I feel it
would be premature perhaps if I said very much. In a sense there isn't very much to say.

Devamitra : The next question comes from Suvajra on the degeneration of kalyana mitrata within the Theravada tradition.

Suvajra : In the text it speaks about kalyana mitrata (kalyana mitta) being solely referred to now in Theravada tradition as your meditation
teacher. How is it that in the Theravada tradition the concept of kalyana mitta has come to mean just that?

S: Well it would seem that originally spiritual friendship was spiritual friendship, and it extended to all aspects of the spiritual life. But perhaps
it's as though within the Theravada tradition, and here I speculate somewhat, spiritual life in the strict sense became more and more confined just
to meditation, or identified even with the life of meditation and the life of asceticism along with that. So inasmuch as that was the spiritual life
in depth, the kalyana mitra came to be regarded as kalyana mitra only within that particular context. It's as though outside that, there no longer
was any real kalyana mitrata. Though I must say, though the technical term is used in that way nowadays say in Theravada Buddhism, I
wouldn't like to say that, regardless of the term one uses, there wasn't ever any kalyana mitrata in the sense that we use the term, outside that
specifically meditative context. Perhaps it isn't very high level spiritual friendship, but I have emphasised and I've observed that among
Theravada bhikkhus there is usually a very warm feeling of friendship. I am sure that sometimes that does amount to kalyana mitrata in our
sense even though they may not use that term for it, even though they may restrict the term kalyana mitra to the specifically meditative context.

But we shouldn't take that to mean that kalyana mitrata is never found within the broader Buddhist context among Theravada Buddhists. But
that is the only reason I can think of that historically there was in a sense no serious spiritual life outside the life of meditation and the life of the
forest monks. So that kalyana mitrata which should have applied to the total situation was restricted to that particular section of it.

Suvajra : I had read, I tried to check on this today but I couldn't find it, that in the bhikkhu ordination there are two officials, one is the upajaya
and I thought that the other was the kalyana mitra, is that right?

S: No there are three. One is the upajaya, who is usually the seniormost monk and who presides at the ordination, the other is the
Dhammacharya or simply Acharya who is normally the personal teacher of the person being ordained and who also has a particular part to play -
he for instance coaches him in the ceremony in what he has to do. then there is sometimes the Kamacharya, the master of ceremonies who sees
that the whole ordination is conducted properly. But no there is kalyana mitra, there is no such position as a kalyana mitra with reference to the
ordination ceremony.

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Suvajra : That's why I couldn't find it!

S: Kalyana Mitra in Vajrayana literature and in Tibetan literature is often used in the general sense of guru or teacher. I think in the Blue Annals
you sometimes come across the kalyana mitra so and so. I don't think there, the context is specifically that of a meditation teacher or meditation
guru.

Suvajra : What is meant then in the Mahayana tradition?

S: The spiritual friend, with perhaps a tinge of guru-like connotation but only a tinge. A spiritual advisor, a spiritual friend, not quite a guru in
the tantric sense. A spiritually more advanced or experienced person to whom you can look up. Not necessarily your own personal teacher.

Devamitra : The next question comes from Devaraja concerning the inseparability of the Dharma and the Sangha.

Devaraja : On page 232, I'll just quote the paragraph : "These developments, argues Nanarama had a further serious consequence, namely that
the heritage of meditation advice now written in books, was entrusted to special teachers. This change is well illustrated by a change in the
meaning of the term for such specialists, 'kalyana mitta'. In early canonical texts it had signified simply 'wise companion', the sort of serious and
experienced fellow seeker any monk would be well advised to cultivate. But in the Visuddhimagga it means 'specialised meditation teacher'.
And Nanarama further infers that such specialists became scarce preferring to live in seclusion."

This would seem to be a symptom of an increasing interest in scholasticism and decreasing interest in meditation. It also suggests a removal of
friendship and Sangha, that is shared spiritual commitment as the basis of communication of the Dharma in its broadest sense as doctrine and
method with perhaps the scholastic pundit becoming increasingly prominent. This being so, the Dharma will inevitably be seen as something to
which, through books, one has access to and therefore knowledge of independent of the human relationship to which one is committed.
Therefore is there not a danger in putting information about meditation techniques in particular into print and that we might contribute to this
sort of confusion, and how can we ensure that books that we do produce in this sort of area do not perpetuate that kind of confusion?

S: Well I think absolutely speaking you can't because ...

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