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Jewel Ornament of Liberation Chapter 2 - Working Basis

by Sangharakshita

The Jewel Ornament of Liberation - Women's seminar held at Padmaloka on May 1982

The Motive and the Working Basis - Chapters One and Two
Present: Sangharakshita, Dhammadinna, Anjali, Vajrasuri, Vajrapushpa, Jenny Roche, Gay
Voller, Glynis Brown, Megha, Debbie Seamer, Annie Fowler, Linda Moody, Rosy Anderson,
Marion Monas, Greta Thomas, Rosie Ong, Kay Tremaine, Annie Murphy, Paula Turner, Daphne
Luce, Dawn Bouic.
"Since all beings are endowed with Buddha-nature, do the other five forms of existence such as
denizens of hell, spirits and the like, have the power to attain Buddhahood? No. The expression
'precious human body' means the body representing a unique occasion and effecting the right
juncture and mind possessing three kinds of confidence. There are auspicious resources in an
individual who is the working basis for the attainment of Buddhahood. The following may guide
you:
Five headings relate to the excellent working basis:
Unique occasion, right juncture, Trust, longing and lucidity. The former two belong to the body,
the latter three to mind."
S: First of all, let's just look at this expression: 'the most precious human body'. What does that
suggest?
Marion: It's difficult to attain.
Dawn: We're lucky that we have one.
S: Yes, we're lucky that we have one - it's difficult to attain, but even more than that - I mean in a
general sense.
Voice: You ought to value it, look after it.
S: You ought to value it, yes. But in very general terms what sort of attitude, what kind of
attitude to the body is implied here? (Voice: Positive) It's a very positive, a very appreciative
attitude. I emphasize this point because this isn't perhaps the way in which we always look at the
body, certainly in the West and possibly as a result of your Christian or post-Christian, or
ex-Christian background. But according to the Buddhist tradition 'the most precious human body'
the human body is like a precious vase which is capable of containing [2] the elixir of
immortality. This is how Buddhists traditionally look on it. So the working basis is the most
precious human body. What that means we shall see exactly in a minute. So the text says: "Since
all beings are endowed with Buddha-nature, do the other five forms of existence such as denizens
of hell, spirits and the like, have the power to attain Buddhahood? No. The expression 'precious
human body' means the body representing a unique occasion and effecting the right juncture and
mind possessing three kinds of confidence. There are auspicious resources in an individual who
is the working basis for the attainment of Buddhahood."
So this precious human body is not just a physical body not just any human physical body. Hm?
Do you see the point? It's a special kind of body in a way. "The expression 'precious human body'
means the body representing a unique occasion and effecting the right juncture and mind
possessing three kinds of confidence." What these are, we shall see, in a moment. In other words,
"There are auspicious resources in an individual who is the working basis for the attainment of
Buddhahood."
An individual who is not a working basis for the attainment of Buddhahood doesn't possess these
auspicious resources. So the point is summarized in the first of those "five headings relate to the
excellent working basis: Unique occasion, right juncture, trust, longing and lucidity". These are,
of course, the three kinds of confidence mentioned in the first paragraph. "The former two belong
to the body" - that is to say the physical body, i.e. unique occasion, right juncture - "the latter
three" - trust, longing and lucidity, the three kinds of confidence or the three kinds of faith - "to
the mind". So this is just the table of contents, so to speak, for this chapter. So we now have to go
into each of these in turn: What is the unique occasion; what is the right juncture? What does one
mean by trust, longing and lucidity? In this way we shall come to an understanding of the
working basis, i.e. the most precious human body.
All right, I'd like to carry on:
Jenny (Gunabhadri): "'Unique occasion' means to be free from the eight unfavourable conditions,
listed in the 'Saddharma-smrtyupasthana':
Denizens of hell, spirits, animals,
Members of the border tribes, long-living Gods,
Those with erroneous views and those born in a period where there is no Buddha
And the stupid. These represent the eight unfavourable conditions."
[3]
S: So unique occasion means to be free from the eight unfavourable conditions, and what are
these? Denizens of hell - to be born as a denizen of hell is an unfavourable condition To be born
as a Preta is an unfavourable condition; to be born as an animal; to be born as a member of a
border tribe. What does that mean? Or what does that suggest?
Voice: Is that the Asuras?
S: No, it's not the Asuras.
Vajrapushpa: The distant and the uncivilized areas.
S: Yes, this suggests - this is quite interesting, that some degree of culture, some degree of
civilization is necessary as the basis of the spiritual life. You can't go directly, as it were, from a
state of barbarism and savagery to the spiritual life. Culture, civilization provide you with a sort
of refinement. Do you see what I mean? They constitute a sort of intermediate stage, between the
animal-like life of those who are savage and barbarous and the more refined life the more
emotionally refined life, perhaps of those who have perhaps reached a definite stage of
civilization and culture. Do you see this point? Of course, we have to be careful how we
understand 'culture' perhaps. I think it has been recently, more widely acknowledged that a lot of
peoples that formerly, at least in the last century were considered primitive or backward, have in
fact quite an advanced culture. And quite an advanced spiritual tradition, even. Do you see what I
mean? So one should be very careful one doesn't consider people uncultured or backward simply
because they don't possess various modern amenities or don't have a civilization which is based
on technology.
It seems, for instance, that the aborigines of Australia, have a definite cultural and spiritual
tradition. This formerly was not appreciated. They were simply considered 'backward'. Similarly
with the Red Indian tribes in Canada and the United States.
Dhammadinna: Quite often primitive or backward is being decided by Christian missionary
culture.
S: Yes, indeed! Christian missionary culture and technological culture.
Dhammadinna: They didn't actually look to see if there was anything [4] worthwhile in those
traditions.
S: Yes, right. So members of border tribes are people living in a state of genuine barbarism and
savagery. Their customs are very brutal, there's a lot of cruelty and harsh treatment of one
another. Maybe not a very developed language. On the other hand, one is not necessarily cultured
or even civilized, just because you're surrounded by all the latest technological gadgets. You can
still be very barbarous and even very savage.
Dhammadinna: How developed was the culture in Tibet when Buddhism went there? Because
they sounded like quite a wild people in one sense but presumably there was cultural
development.
S: Well, to begin with, it was very difficult to live in Tibet at all. It was a very harsh and a very
bleak sort of environment. So the Tibetans grew up as a sort of very sturdy people, able to bear
quite a lot of hardship, quite a lot of suffering. So perhaps from the standpoint of other peoples or
in the eyes of other peoples, they were a bit hard on one another even - maybe parents were hard
on their children even. Mothers even hard on their babies, but that was because they were
accustomed to a much harsher way of living than perhaps we are. Nonetheless, even before
Buddhism, they did have a very advanced spiritual culture, in Shamanism - a lot of which was
incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism. They were certainly not uncultured in the sense of being
devoid of spiritual ideas or spiritual traditions. Civilization and culture don't necessarily imply
luxury or having a high standard of living, materially speaking. Sometimes the two go together,
but not necessarily so.
Vajrasuri: I sometimes feel the changes in (our involvement) - kind of psychic - magic - and not
spiritual - not evolution ...
S: Perhaps that raises the question of 'what does one mean by spiritual'?
Vajrasuri: More governed by fear than formed by expansion.
S: Well, certainly there is an element of that in many of these traditions but then one might say,
"well, primitive man had cause for fear in the sense that he's surrounded by the forces of nature
unable to control them - unable to keep them at bay, even". I mean [5] we're afraid of the Atom
Bomb. Well, we're perfectly right to be afraid of the Atom Bomb or Nuclear Bomb or whatever.
We have unleashed those forces in our technological ... and they were afraid of a storm and wind
and hurricane and drought and so on and sometimes they believed that these things could be dealt
with by magical means. I'm not so sure they can't be, on some occasions. I mean, I have known
'rain-making-Lamas' and they explained how it's done. It seems to work. Though they did admit
that it was more difficult, they said, to cause rain to fall when there were no rain ...

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