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Bodhisattva Ideal - Questions and Answers with Study Leaders 1986

by Sangharakshita

... about only quite vaguely so I need to put my mind on it more intently, so
to speak.
Dharmapriya: In the lecture you draw the distinction between saying or writing
on the one hand and doing and being on the other (S: Yes, that’s al quite clear.)
Although you make this point especial y with respect to the Buddha, several of us
thought that a similar distinction applied to you, namely that your lectures,
essays, and more scholarly books are your sayings, so to speak, whereas your
memoirs are an attempt to communicate what you are and your being.
S: I think that whatever you write, whether it is on something objective, on a
subject, or whether it is about yourself, about your personal experiences, does
convey or does communicate something of you. I would say that if one read the
Survey one would get, I think - obviously I can’t speak here in the way that some
others might be able to speak - but I think one would get a certain impression of
me as an individual as wel as an impression of the subject matter of the book
itself. So I think, therefore, that one can’t make an absolute distinction between
that writing which communicates some subject, say Buddhism, and that writing
which communicates oneself. But I would go on to make a further distinction,
though I must say that these things are still in process of being sorted out in my
own mind; between writing which is less and writing which is more creative. All
writing - al writing that is to say short of the telephone directory or something of
Second Edition Unedited Question and Answer Sessions on the Aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal Lecture

that sort - is creative, in however minor a degree, or in however diluted a form.
But I think probably one could say that a memoir or autobiography was more
creative, or more likely to be creative, than a work of some other kind, a work of,
let us say, a non-literary kind if one can use that expression. And I think that
probably, though I am speaking a little hesitantly here, I think that probably the
more ful y creative the writing is the more ful y the author, the writer, expresses
himself through that. So to that extent, with those limitations one could probably
say that I was expressing at least more of myself as a person or as an individual
through things like the memoirs than through, say, things like the Survey.
On the other hand it occurs to me that perhaps I can now turn that around a bit
and say that it depends, even [5] then, on what exactly one is writing about -
whether, let’s say in the Survey or whether in the memoirs. If, say, in the memoirs
I describe how I went for a walk with somebody and we had a certain
conversation, to what extent am I communicating myself? Am I communicating
myself real y to a very great extent? On the other hand if I give, in the Survey, my
feelings about a certain aspect of Buddhism, an aspect of some importance, an
aspect about which I feel very deeply and with regard to which, perhaps, I have
some experience, am I not communicating myself? So it is not so clear cut, not so
straightforward, as one might expect. But nonetheless I do appreciate the
distinction, I think the distinction probably has some significance.
Kulamitra: When you were saying that, in a way you are talking about different
aspects of yourself. To talk about yourself implies a sort of uniformity, in a certain
way, but maybe there are so many levels of self-experience that different things
communicate different aspects of oneself.
S: That’s true, Yes, I think the question that arises is, is there any literary form
that would enable one to communicate al aspects of oneself - one’s deeper
experiences as well as one’s more superficial ones, one’s inner ones as well as
one’s outer ones?
I have begun to suspect that there is probably only one literary form that enables
one to do that, and that is probably the Dostoyevskian novel. [Laughter] But I
think it is rather late in the day to be embarking upon any venture of that sort. But
you see what I mean, if you have read Dostoyevsky, and you probably wil .
So therefore probably one has to be satisfied with revealing or communicating
different aspects of oneself in different ways through different literary forms. Many
people have remarked on the fact that they see in, for instance, the Travel Letters
a side of me which they haven’t seen in my other writings. So to the extent that
they are interested in a more comprehensive view of me, individually, that
certainly helps them to achieve that. It therefore corrects any possible view that
one is a sort of disembodied intelligence. [Laughter] I have been continuing my
letter from Tuscany, I wasn’t able to quite finish it in Italy itself and I couldn’t help
remarking on the number of occasions in the course of the pages in which I
described my visit to Naples, that I mention having cups of tea and coffee. One
wouldn’t usually find any mention of such things in a work, for instance, like the
Survey or even the Eternal Legacy. [Laughter] So one is reminded that the writer
Second Edition Unedited Question and Answer Sessions on the Aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal Lecture

does actual y have a physical body with certain needs, whereas one might have
overlooked the fact and thought of him in terms of a disembodied intel igence.
But it is a quite interesting question, one would in fact like there to be a literary
form which enabled one to express adequately all the different aspects of oneself.
But that is quite a tal order, even for the Dostoyevskian novel.
Dharmapriya: There may be; I am not sure if this part is answerable as were
the last questions, it’s basical y to do with the... wel , you could almost ask the
question why do you spend any time, almost, on your memoirs. [6]
S: Wel , one might say why does one spend any time at al writing? This brings
me to a much broader question which applies especial y to creative writing. I have
been considering recently, and I have been giving some thought to this, what is
the nature of creative writing, what is one doing, what is the nature of artistic
creativity in general? I have come to the conclusion that creative, artistic activity
is in a way a quite normal way of dealing with, assimilating, coming to terms with,
integrating, one’s experience of life itself, one’s experience of reality if you like.
And at one level or another it is going on al the time in the case of al human
beings. If it isn’t going on or not going on to an appreciable extent you are
virtually dead. This is something I want to think more about and perhaps write
something about a little later on. But do you see what I am getting at? I see
writing, especial y, because that is what I am more familiar with, as having a sort
of existential function, as enabling us to cope with reality, cope initially with reality
with a smal ‘r’, as it were.
Because, when one is actually writing, when one sits down to write, what is one
doing, what is one conscious of doing? You are grappling with your material, and
one real y is grappling, very often. You are surrounded by a sort of chaos, a
chaos of impressions and ideas and experiences and you are grappling with
them, and you are trying to reduce them to some kind of order. This is basical y
what you are doing. It’s as though through you, through your experience, the
universe, almost, starts becoming subject to a sort of order, at least ideally. Do
you see what I am getting at?
Rilke had this idea of the poet recreating existence, didn’t he? - and that the
poem was the recreated form of experience, of life. So I think of creative activity,
think of creative writing, in that sort of way and of it as having a spiritual function,
therefore, ultimately.
I think one can’t really separate the written from the spoken word. When people
talk, especially people who know one another, very often they are trying to make
sense of their experience, they are trying to reduce it to some sort of order. If you
listen to ordinary, if one may say so, uneducated people, talking about something
that happened, you can actual y see them doing this. You can see them actually
shaping, or hear them shaping their experience and reducing it to something
which they can accept and assimilate. You can even see the experience itself, or
their version of it, changing as they talk about it. So through literature we do the
same thing, we shape reality, we make it more assimilable.
Second Edition Unedited Question and Answer Sessions on the Aspects of the Bodhisattva Ideal Lecture

So when I am writing about Buddhism you could say that I am grappling with
Buddhism, I think you can see this quite clearly in the Survey, I am grappling with
it. I have got this mass of material, I am trying to make sense of it, I am trying to
come to terms with it, trying to integrate it into my own life, as it were. But when I
am writing my Travel Letters I am doing exactly the same sort of thing but with
another aspect, another facet, of reality in the form of, so to speak, ordinary life.
And one can’t really distinguish in principle, with regard to subject matter,
between the two types of writing. Except that perhaps one may be more creative,
or if you like more ...

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