Transcribing the oral tradition...

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Precepts of the Gurus - 4th Seminar

by Sangharakshita

... yourself. This is how it comes in. In that way desire may be mistaken for faith. But can
you give any practical examples of that?
Susiddhi: I remember something that was on one of your tapes, when you said that people
read a lot about Buddhism, they understand it, and therefore they appropriated it. Is that the
sort of thing you mean?
S: Yes, you could say they appropriate Buddhism, or rather a concept of Buddhism, rather
than giving themselves to Buddhism; in other words, they don't develop any faith in it. And
here it's the intellect, or you could say the alienated reason, which is the instrument of that
appropriation. You appropriate information instead of surrendering yourself to inspiration.
Yes, so this is an example: we do it with our reading.
So we think that we are surrendering ourselves to inspiration when we are in fact perhaps just
appropriating information through the rational mind. We try to as it were incorporate
Buddhism into us, which really means incorporating a concept of Buddhism - because we
can't really incorporate Buddhism itself - rather than trying to incorporate ourselves into
Buddhism, which is more akin to faith.
So it's as though, when you encounter Buddhism, there's a sort of conflict, a sort of struggle.
As it were, Buddhism tries to swallow you and you try to swallow Buddhism, when you
ought really to be allowing Buddhism to swallow you, and to assimilate you, and to - what
shall I say? - to restore you, transformed; instead of which you try to appropriate Buddhism
and assimilate Buddhism to your own conditioned nature.
Susiddhi: I think that's a very common human thing, to try and understand something so that
you can put it in its place.
S: Yes. This is why it's so important to recognize that there is so much that we don't
understand, whereas only too often people think they've only got to read a few books about
Buddhism and they know all about it. And they will quite confidently tell you what it's all
So you could say that desire is mistaken for faith when a strong desire for something is
mistaken for a strong faith in something.
Derek: Seems to be a parallel here between the difference between metta and pema.
S: Yes, you could say that in the case of pema, in the case of affection, as it's usually
translated, you are trying to appropriate another person for the sake of your own emotional
satisfaction; but in the case of metta or friendliness you are trying to give yourself to, devote
yourself to, even, another person for the sake of their happiness. So just in the same way as
desire may be mistaken for faith, so pema may be mistaken for metta; the same sort of
difference between the subjective orientation and the objective orientation.
But in terms of actual examples, say within the context of the Friends, what would be perhaps
the outstanding example of desire being mistaken for faith, in a quite practical way?
Derek: Someone jumping to some clerical position or other, perhaps for the wrong reasons?
S: Yes - but I'm not quite thinking of that, though it's of the same kind of nature. I'm thinking
of something which is a very strong example of that, as it were. What sort of question does
this come up in connection with? You desire something.
___: Going for Refuge.
S: Going for Refuge, yes, right, yes. So you could say that desire for ordination could be
mistaken for faith in the Three Jewels as a result of which you want to commit yourself. So
what is happening here? How do the two differ? How does desire for ordination, or desire to
be ordained, or desire to belong to the Order, say, differ from a faith in the Three Jewels and a
willingness to commit oneself?
Susiddhi: It hinges on whether you are giving yourself to the object or trying to give the
object to yourself.
S: Yes, or rather to take from the object for the sake of yourself as you at present are, so that
you may remain as you at present are, and that usually boils down to something like security.
And that means, as we've often said, that in that case the Order is seen not so much as a
spiritual community but as a sort of group which offers security and approval and
membership of a group, and you want to be a member of that group. That is your desire, in
fact, whereas you think that you've got faith in the Three Jewels. Of course, it all may be very
mixed. It isn't usually that it's definitely the one or definitely the other; very often it is very
mixed - maybe mixed in equal proportions - and you just have to sort out the desire from the
faith, and at least have a definite preponderance of faith.
But it almost amounts to the possibility of mistaking going round and round in circles for
growth and development. This is also where the mistake lies. You think you are going
forward, but actually you are just going round in a familiar circle. When I was [6] -
somewhere else, not in England - in one particular place, somebody came to me and was
saying that they really wanted to be ordained very much, and they clearly were under the
impression that if they could convince me that they really wanted it, well, that was
tantamount to their actually being ready and being willing to commit themselves; that they
wanted it so much. But they could not see the difference. But if you want something you think
of it as a 'thing out there' to be appropriated, not as a step that you yourself must take in such
a way that it can be then recognized and acknowledged by others; not that anybody is giving
you anything, no. Despite the phraseology we use about giving ordination - in a way, that's
quite wrong, nobody gives you anything. It's simply a recognition or awareness of something
that you have done yourself. It's as though other people say, 'Oh, yes, yes, he's committed
himself'. They see that and they recognize it. Not that they give you something which
previously you didn't have. Though of course they may have encouraged you to commit
yourself in that way, that's different. Even then they haven't given you anything, they've
simply encouraged you.
And then again, of course, the question arises in that when people, mistaking desire for faith
in this way, don't get what they wanted, as it appears to them, then of course they also ... again
and think maybe they're being rejected or they're not good enough or people are being
exclusive, etc., etc., etc. It leads to all sorts of further complications - all because desire has
been mistaken for faith.
So it's a quite important point, a quite important principle too. It's quite important to
distinguish between desire on the one hand and faith on the other, because they can be
confused; partly because they are emotions, partly because they are both outwardgoing, they
are both very strong, and in this particular case they both have to do, either rightly or wrongly,
with the spiritual community.
Mike: Can desire become faith? Is it an initial something that maybe you pass through?
S: I think in a way, to begin with, faith almost has to be desire, in the sense that you don't start
off as an individual - that is, not on the whole. So when you approach the spiritual community
or when you come into contact with the spiritual community initially, you cannot but see it as
a group. So your attitude towards it cannot but be that of someone who would like to be a
member of the group. But gradually, as you yourself become more of an individual, you are
able to recognize individuality in others to a greater extent. Then you see that people that you
had thought of before as members of a group are in fact individuals who - you see, we don't
have the proper terms, even, in English - belong to a spiritual community; and that therefore it
is not a question of becoming a member of that group, but of becoming an individual like
those individuals so that you will be able to relate to them as an individual among individuals,
and form with them not a group but a spiritual community.
So you start off on the assumption that you are a group member or potential group member,
and that is a group and they are group members. You start off with desire, or your approach is
in terms of desire initially. But as you become more of an individual, and see them more as
individuals, then your desire becomes transmuted into something more like faith, in the case
of the spiritual community.
Mike: I was thinking that - obviously there is a difference between desire and faith, but in
some respects desire is not necessarily like a bad thing.
S: No, because you can obviously be a group member in a quite healthy, positive way, and it
isn't a bad thing, again, that there should be what I call the positive group. But the positive
group, however positive and however desirable, is not to be mistaken as a spiritual
community. The spiritual community is much more likely to grow out of the positive group
than to grow out of just any old group. It's as though the positive group is a necessary
intermediate stage. And so in the same way in the case of the individual it's as though he has
to be a happy, healthy, positive group member before he can be an individual. That's the basis
for development that he needs.
But so far we've talked about desire and faith only in relation to the spiritual community; so
the question could arise, in what way could they be confused with regard to 1) the Buddha
and 2) the Dharma? What would one have to say about that? How could one ...

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