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Going for Refuge - Questions and Answers Tuscany 1986

by Sangharakshita


PRESENT: Sangharakshita, Vessantara, Uttara, Sudhana, Sumana, Cittapala, Jayamati,
Sanghapala, Chakkhupala, Dharmamati, Ratnaprabha, Padmapani, Douglas Ponton, Duncan
Steen, Peter Nicholson, Paul Tozer, Alan Pendock, Ben Murphy, Ong Sin Choon, Alan
Turner, Kevin Donovan, Derek Goodman, Colin Lavender, Thomas McGeary, Gerd Baak.
Vessantara: So now we've got some Going For Refuge questions, questions arising out of the
Going for Refuge context. We'll start with Peter.
Peter Nicholson: The question is not so much about the booklet but about the blurb on the
back cover of the Indian edition. It states that you are the most senior English bhikkhu. I've
seen this statement associated with your name a number of times. I wondered why we give
this such prominence.
S: I think it's really out of date, in the sense that it's not an emphasis that really any longer in
the FWBO we make. In fact, I was talking to Nagabodhi about this just a few months ago,
and I asked him to drop this; because, yes, it is something that is regarded as quite important
in Buddhist countries, it has some significance, but I think in the FWBO we don't any longer
place this kind of emphasis on seniority as such. So I think it is something one can consider
now as belonging to my past rather than to my present - even though, in technical terms, one
might say I'm getting more senior all the time! But I think it's not an emphasis that is really in
keeping with our overall approach. Lokamitra no doubt thinks it's appropriate in India, where
these things still mean something, but I'm not so sure that we should even continue it there.
So you won't see it on the back of our last couple of publications, nor on the back of the one
that's coming.
Sanghapala: Bhante, do you think of yourself as a bhikkhu or a Dharmachari?
S: That's quite a question, isn't it? I suppose it depends what one means by a bhikkhu, to
begin with; also I suppose it depends what you mean by a Dharmachari. After all, I haven't
been ordained as a Dharmachari. I think you can say that, in a sense, I am a transitional or
intermediate type! - because I am in a way like a bridge; I link the old and the new. In the case
of all of you, you don't do that; you're the product of the new development as it were, or the
new Movement. But in my own case, for purely historical reasons, that isn't the case, because
I was, so to speak, brought up under the old system, but I have lived to inaugurate a new
system. So I suppose in a way that that's the position of all pioneers. So one might say, in the
strict sense, I'm neither a bhikkhu nor a Dharmachari; I'm some kind of monstrous hybrid!
But you are all quite lucky, because you are - or will be. hopefully - just Dharmacharis pure
and simple. Do you see the point I'm getting at? (Voices: Yes.) So in a sense one neither
belongs to the old nor to the new - but, yes, you're all very fortunate that you do just belong to
the new and haven't had to work it all out for yourselves.
Vessantara: Do you think there are advantages to the Movement in your still as it were having
a foot in the old camp, or appearing to have?
S: I think that is less and less the case. I don't know that it really matters very much now,
except perhaps in India. I don't think it really matters very much.
Chakkhupala: I was just thinking - given that there now seems to be firmly established the
principle of the primacy of the Going for Refuge, in the way that the Movement is structured,
and that we are emphasizing the spirit rather than the letter, could you envisage the possibility
in the future of having another sort of ordination, or rather a specific kind of undertaking
Precepts binding Dharmacharis to a particularly strict form of monasticism? In other words,
tending in the direction of a bhikkhu ordination, although not wanting to use that
S: Well, in a sense, we do have that already, because we have the anagarikas who do take a
vow - or the Precept - of celibacy, that is, abrahmacarya. We have in India Jyotipala, in Sri
Lanka we have Asvajit; we have Padmavajra in England, though his is probably just for a
limited period; and, of course, we've got Ratnashuri. I don't think I've forgotten - oh! we've
got Kamalashila at Vajraloka. But I have so far carefully refrained from speaking of an
anagarika ordination, because I think the danger is that, if one speaks of another ordination, or
even of a higher ordination, it detracts from the importance and centrality of the original
Going for Refuge, and I think we must keep that emphasis. None the less, I am very much in
favour of more and more people adopting - on the basis of that one ordination, the Going for
Refuge - a more and more as it were monastic lifestyle, and even taking the abrahmacarya
precept. I am definitely in favour of that. But one wants as it were to keep it within the one
basic original ordination. Otherwise, if you have another ordination, or a higher ordination,
gradually a split starts developing and we will be, sooner or later, back in the very situation
that we have been trying to resolve. But none the less, I repeat I am definitely in favour of a
more monastic element within the Movement. Yes. Yes.
Because it's not even just a question of celibacy, it's just a question of - well, you used the
word strictness. That is not, of course, a very popular word nowadays. I think I know what
you mean; I hope everybody else does. Or at least, I hope that what I think you mean is what I
think you mean! - if you see what I mean. It's more like a greater degree of scrupulosity,
conscientiousness, thoroughness, in living out the implications of your Going for Refuge.
This is what it really means. It doesn't mean the superimposition of some rather strange way
of life on that.
Chakkhupala: I suppose I was thinking that, as Dharmacharis actually develop, and develop
that kind of scrupulosity, scrupulousness, conscientiousness, and actually live out in finer and
finer, more softened(?) and refined ways, their spiritual commitment, presumably there will
come a time when - one can see it developing now in the Movement - those more senior
Order Members will tend to have lifestyles quite different from very junior Order Members
who - (S: Yes) - and I suppose what I am saying is: I can sort of understand even now that a
new Order Member or a Mitra or even a Friend would quite naturally see someone who had
taken the abrahmacarya precept and was an anagarika as being in some ways in a different
category to a Dharmachari. I know it's very dangerous language.
S: Well, he is and he isn't. I think what is important is that he should see the anagarika not as
someone different in kind from himself but someone who represents his own commitment in
a more intense form, or to a more intense degree; but not someone who has taken up a
different line of development, as it were. Otherwise you are back to the old split between the
monk and the lay person. I don't think it's going to be very easy to maintain the balance,
frankly. I think a lot will depend upon the - well, the more senior and experienced people in
this respect. They mustn't sort of claim, perhaps, any special privileges or give the impression
that [3] they occupy a special kind of position, or that they are essentially different. The
difference is a difference of degree, not a difference of kind.
For instance, senior, more experienced Order Members may be supported; bhikkhus are also
supported, but it may be necessary for the senior, more experienced Order Members to be
supported, so that they can give their full time and energy to Dharma activities. But they
themselves must be very careful to ensure that that does not as it were separate them in any
way, in any substantial way, from those others, perhaps other Order Members, who are
supporting them. That is why I think in a way it is quite good, though there may be other
inconveniences, if senior Order Members in a community take their full share of duties;
otherwise you very easily get this sort of categorization.
Paul Tozer: On the first page of this Going for Refuge booklet, you talk about
the activities conducted at our centres, and you talk about courses
in human communication. I don't believe that there are many courses
in human communication around at the moment. Do you think it would
be a good idea to have more courses in human communication, and do you
think it's a good medium for the Dharma?
S: I was thinking, of course, mainly of the communication exercises and the particular context
in which they occur. I don't think we've actually had many communication courses as such; I
think we've simply usually had just communication exercises in the course of a more general
retreat. I am not quite sure what the position in the Movement at present is in this respect; but
I think it would be a good idea, from time to time, to have, say, communication weekends. I
held quite a few of these myself years ago, I think it was at Caxton Hall; we had several in
one of the smaller halls there. I think - sometimes they were one day, sometimes they were
over two days. But we had mainly communication exercises, with a meditation, I think, at the
beginning and at the end; and quite a bit of explanation and discussion about the exercises
and their implications, and about human communication in general. And perhaps it would be
a ...

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