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Mind in Buddhist Psychology - Unchecked

DISCLAIMER - This transcript has not been checked by Sangharakshita, and may contain mistakes and mishearings. Checked and reprinted copies of all seminars will be available as part of the Complete Works Project.

by Sangharakshita

MIND IN BUDDHIST PSYCHOLOGY SEMINAR
Padmaloka 1976.
Present:
Ven. Sangharakshita, Padmavajra, Sagaramati, Kamalasila, Manjuvajra,
Abhaya, Asvajit, Vimalamitra, Padmapani, Dharmapala, Robert Gerke, Mark Barrett.
Tape 1, Side A.
S: We'll read round the circle- eh? A paragraph each at a time, as we usually do.
Sagaramati: "Ten years ago, Tibetan Buddhism and its psychology was not very well known
in the West. But with the translation of texts such as this, the practical psychological
teachings of Buddhism are now beginning to materialise. "
S: Mmm. Ten years ago- that's a very short time, isn't it. This book was published in '75.
Mmm? So one of the implications of this statement is that, in a way, from the Buddhist point
of view, in the West we're living in a very interesting time. Eh? We're living in a time when
important new texts are becoming available in translation almost every year, and this process,
no doubt, is going to go on for quite a few more decades, if not centuries. Things which were
not available in my younger days, which I very much would have liked to read, are just now
becoming available, so quickly and easily and in such quantities, it's very difficult to keep up
even. So we're living in a very interesting, even very sort of creative period, and it'll be very
interesting to see what our reactions, or responses rather, are to these new texts, as they
become available, or I should say, perhaps, to these new translations, which very often are the
first translations to have been made. What impact these translations will make on the West in
general is very difficult to say. They'll probably pass unnoticed in, as it were, professional
philosophical and psychological circles, but among Buddhists and those interested in
Buddhism, and those interested in Eastern Teachings generally, they must, surely, make quite
an impact, even though, perhaps, not a very dramatic one. Eh? But we are living at a very
interesting and, as I said, very creative phase of the introduction of the better type of
Buddhism to the West.
The only comparable period I can think of in Buddhist history is when Buddhism started to be
introduced into China, and the Chinese literati became aware of this mysterious literature, you
know, arriving [2] via translations from India in China, and they had, as it were, to adjust to
it, come to terms with it, and perhaps to some extent assimilate it as best they could. I
mention China rather than Tibet, because when the Buddhist texts were translated into
Tibetan, there was hardly any indigenous culture, certainly not of a higher kind, so the
Tibetans, to begin with, simply received, they didn't really know what else to do, they weren't
in a position to evaluate or really react to it in any sort of way, they could only accept. But the
Chinese had a great culture, a great civilisation all ready, before Buddhism arrived on the
scene.
So in much the same way, in the West, there has been a culture, a civilisation, at least as great
as that of ancient China, all ready present before the arrival of Buddhism. So perhaps that is
the only comparison that one can make, with ancient China. So that's the sort of situation in
the midst of which we are living now. This is what has been happening over the last, maybe
hundred years, and the whole process has been greatly accelerated over the last twenty -
twenty five, and even more, as Tarthang Tulku says, in the course of the last ten years, as
regards Tibetan Buddhism and its psychology, and his own centre is playing a very important
part in that.
Padmavajra: Although it's wonderful, quite magnificent, that all these texts are becoming
available, is there not a danger that some of them are quite, I don't know, quite advanced,
quite sort of high, and, you know, maybe they're just a bit too far out, and maybe a lot of
people reading them without a teacher - that we're fortunate to have - and ...
S: I think this is certainly true. I think there cannot but be quite a bit of misunderstanding. I
think with regard to Tibetan Buddhism and its psychology, what does seem to be happening
in certain quarters, some of which one would have thought would have known better, is that
the whole Teaching is becoming, as it were, psychologised. Things are being understood, not
as having a spiritual and transcendental reference, but as having a purely psychological
reference, in the more restricted sense - especially the Tantric teachings. So there is definitely
that danger, and there seems to be no, sort of, foolproof defence against that. The
unenlightened mind will always find a way. [3]
Asvajit: Mmm. Look at what happened to Zen.
S: What happened to Zen - yes indeed. As a friend of mine wrote many years ago, when I
was in Kalimpong, talking about Zen, or what so-called Zen had become in London Buddhist
circles, he said it was "the witty word among the teacups". That, he said, was what Zen had
become. So I think it is quite important that as these texts become available, we should make
them the subject of serious "group", (inverted commas), study. Certainly read them on our
own, read them by ourselves [4] but wherever and whenever possible go through them in this
sort of way. In that fashion, hopefully, a sort of tradition -of study and interpretation and
understanding can be built up, which can be continued, so that the text won't just, as it were,
be at large in the Western world for anybody to misunderstand.
(Long pause.)
So I think Tarthang Tulku does well to emphasis this fact that 'ten years ago, Tibetan
Buddhism and its psychology was not very well known in the West.' That's really quite an
understatement. There was really only Dr. Guenther doing any work of any kind in this field.
But with the translation of texts such as this, the practical psychological teachings of
Buddhism are now beginning to materialise.' You notice he says 'practical psychological
teachings.' Psychology in the West is a sort of descriptive science, but it certainly isn't simply
that as far as Buddhism is concerned. There's definitely a practical reference, a practical
upshot to the psychology.
All right, let's carry on then.
Ashvajit: "The subject of this book is self-knowledge. That is, until we thoroughly examine
the nature of our mind, we cannot really be aware of who we are or why we are here. Just as
an intoxicated man, lost in his own mind-created distortions, is unable to judge or control his
actions, without an awakening into true knowledge we can only continue to create problems
for ourselves and others."
S: That's also quite a reflection, 'Without an awakening into true knowledge we can only
continue to create problems for ourselves and others.'
Padmavajra: So you can't be compassionate without being wise - not having wisdom.
S: Not really, no. By accident almost, perhaps, but, you know, not of intent.
So, 'the subject of this book is self-knowledge. That is, until we thoroughly examine the
nature of our mind, we cannot really be aware of who we are or why we are here. Just as an
intoxicated man, lost in his own mind-created distortions, is unable to judge or control his
actions, without an awakening into true knowledge we can only continue to create problems
for ourselves and others.' In other words, truly our mental state is like that of the drunken
man. You may remember that I sometimes say that the first two Nidanas of the Wheel of
Life- that is to say, [5] 'Avidya' and 'Samskaras', are traditionally compared to drunkenness,
and the actions committed while in a state of drunkenness, and this is what keeps the whole,
you know, Wheel of Life going - Ignorance and the activities performed while in a state of
ignorance, which is just like the actions and the words of a drunken man. So what is needed
is self-knowledge, what is needed is self-awareness, and this book, like the Abhidharma
teaching in general, is meant to help us in this sort of way, in this sort of direction. So it has
practical value, not just theoretical interest.
But just to emphasis that last clause again, 'Without an awakening into true knowledge we
can only continue to create problems for ourselves and others.' I think perhaps sometimes we
don't realise the extent of the damage that we do. We start doing things, we say things, we
get involved with others, we initiate projects. But very often we don't realise what we are
doing, and it's only by luck, usually, that we don't create problems, you know, for ourselves
and others, and more often than not the luck isn't there and we do create those problems, and
the greater part of our lives, it seems, is made up of the problems that we create in that sort of
way. Very often. of course, we don't see them as problems - which is a problem in itself!
Sagaramati: In a sense then, you have to do things.
S: You have to, you have to. But you have to keep as aware and mindful as possible, and
learn from the mistakes, which it seems inevitably you commit, and, you know, be more
careful next time, or if you see how you got into a certain problematic situation and why you
got into it, if you begin to understand the mechanics of that, then just, with that insight, avoid
creating or setting up that situation in the future. This is the only way which you can proceed.
You can't, unfortunately, wait until you gain perfect Enlightenment, before ...

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