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Noble Eightfold Path - Questions and Answers with Study Leaders 1985

by Sangharakshita

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... shows that progress is gradual; Insight deepens;
the fetters are broken, so to speak, gradually, or at least seriatim. Some, of course, progress
through them more quickly than others. In the case of Mogallana, it took him only a week to
become an arhant after becoming a Stream Entrant; others might take years, or might not get
there in this life at all. But it is not that the Stream Entrant has one kind of Insight and the
arhant another, and the Once Returner and Non Returner other kinds of Insight; it is better,
perhaps, to think of them in terms of deepening degrees, deepening levels of Insight.
Otherwise we end up being quite literal minded. Anyway, perhaps we will leave it there for
Day 2Tape 2, Side 2Ratnaguna: In the lecture, in discussing the difficulty of putting our intellectual understanding
into practice, you say (p. 4, third para.): 'There is another part of him ... and [it] is more
unconscious than conscious.' 'Volition' seems to be an odd word to use in this context as,
according to the Collins Dictionary, volition is 'the faculty of conscious choice, decision and
Sangharakshita: That is not the definition I usually cite. I usually take 'volition' to mean the
sum total of energy available to the conscious subject; this is the definition I have used a
number of times.
Ratnaguna: But even that seems to be contradictory.
S: In what way?
Ratnaguna: Well, the point of the passage there seems to be that you are putting volition on
the more unconscious side of man; whereas your definition just now seems to say that it is
more conscious.
S: No, the sum total of the energy available to the conscious subject is the conscious subject
that is conscious, but that conscious subject is being as it were fed by, or draws upon, a
reservoir of unconscious energy. One might even say that the conscious subject as such is not
even aware of the sources of its own energy; it is not aware of what it is drawing on or
drawing from. I think, when one uses terms like 'instinct', 'emotion', 'volition', one is thinking
of the whole aspect of drive, of conation; another word for volition is conation, and that
suggests more the idea of drive; it is something dynamic, the greater part of which is not
conscious. But it is that drive, that urge in various forms, that underlies our conscious life and
our conscious decisions, one might say our conscious choices. So I think, in that passage, I
am just trying to draw attention to the fact that, underlying the conscious mind, or in addition,
say, to reason, there is a sort of drive, an urge, an energy which is largely unconscious, though
it manifests in consciousness, and that that drive or that urge or that energy has to be brought
more and more in accordance with those goals or those objectives which are set by the
conscious, rational mind. I think this is what I am really getting at. The word 'emotion' comes
from 'motion', doesn't it? And 'instinct' suggests a sort of pattern, if you like, of actual
behaviour something that urges you to behave in a particular way, a drive. So all those terms
instinct, emotion, volition refer to that more dynamic and on the whole less conscious side of
our personalities or beings, which need to be integrated more and more with our conscious
ideals and so on.
Dhammaloka: Isn't the term 'volition' very much connected with 'will'? Isn't the will quite
conscious? Isn't there in 'will' quite a conscious element implied? It's something
S: Well, there are degrees. You can do things against your own will, because there are
unconscious factors at work, and inasmuch as those unconscious factors are active they can
be spoken of as a will, or even as an unconscious will. Do you see what I mean? So you can't
say that there is such a thing as a will which is definitely either conscious or unconscious; you
have this urge, or this striving, or this tendency, which is in varying degrees different aspects
conscious as well as unconscious. I think that is all I am getting at in the opening of this talk:
that, thanks to Perfect Vision, or at least Right Understanding, we have some idea of the goal,
some idea of what we ought to be doing. But that is not enough: there is a whole as it were
unconscious or partially conscious part of ourselves that needs to be brought into line with
that understanding or that vision. And what needs to be brought in line is designated, on
different levels or from different points of view, by such terms as 'instinct', 'emotion',
'volition', 'will', 'conation', 'drive'. Do you see what I mean?
Very often we do things but we don't really know why we do them. We do them on account
of some more or less unconscious or blind urge.
Tejananda: The second question is from Ratnaprabha, concerning the Indian monk and
emperor story.
Ratnaprabha: This is actually a question on several stories. I may as well deal with them all at
once. We were thinking it might be a good idea if, during these sessions, we asked you if you
could recall the sources of your stories, so that, if anyone uses them again, they can check out
the originals.
S: Right, that's good.
Ratnaprabha: So there are three and a half or four in this lecture. a) There is the story of the
Indian monk meeting the Chinese emperor.
S: That comes from a Zen source. I am not sure which particular monk it was, I can't
remember now, but I vaguely recollect that that was from a Zen source or Ch'an source. I
have been telling this story since my early days in Kalimpong; I came across it then. It might
be in Suzuki, even.
Ratnaprabha: I was looking in Essays in Zen Buddhism, which Sudhana put me on to,
because he recalls a story in there that is very similar. But there are two stories: one of them is
on Bodhidharma's meeting with the Emperor Wu
S: Yes.
Ratnaprabha: but this one doesn't contain the same dialogue, although the context is very
similar. The other one is of the meeting of Governor Pai, the poet of the Tang Dynasty, with a
monk called Bird's Nest, who is a Zen monk who lives in a tree; and in that case the dialogue
is identical but the context is different. I wonder if the two stories could have been combined?
S: One does get all sorts of different versions of the same story. As far as I recollect, I heard
the story about 'Even a child of three can understand, even an old man of 80 can't practise it' I
heard that version in respect of a monk who did approach the Emperor, not a monk who
approached a governor. I vaguely recollect it was either a Zen monk or the story was from a
Zen source. But the other story, which is quite different, is when the Emperor asked
Bodhidharma whether he had not earned great merit by building so many temples and
monasteries and permitting so many monks and nuns to be ordained; and then, of course,
when Bodhidharma said 'No merit', and so on that is a quite separate story, and that does
seem to refer definitely to Bodhidharma, though probably to an apocryphal life; it is very
doubtful whether it is a historical account.
Ratnaprabha: Even in that story, though, the Emperor does ask Bodhidharma: 'What is the
first principle of Buddhism?' and in response to that Bodhidharma talks about sunyata rather
than about the Dhammapada verse. But at least in Suzuki's account, the account of the
meeting of Governor Pai with this monk called Bird's Nest, who is living in a tree, does have
the identical story in which he quotes the Dhammapada verse, and in response the Governor
says: 'Well, even a child of three can understand that,' and the monk replies, 'But an old man
of 80 finds it very difficult to put it into practice.'
S: There are probably a number of different sources referred to by a number of different
writers. If you want to refer to an actual source not that it is all that necessary, because it is an
illustrative story, it's not an as it were doctrinal point you can refer to that particular account,
but making the point that it is a slightly different version.
Ratnaprabha: Shall I go on to the next story? b) The next one is, I think, also a Zen story,
about a chess playing novice monk.
S: Ah, right. That definitely comes from Trevor Leggett; that comes from the First Zen
Reader. It is right at the end, as far as I remember; that is where I found the story. So if you
find my version departing from that, it is best to go back to that. I don't think I depart from it,
but I may not tell the story in such great detail. I did say First Zen Reader; if it isn't, it is
definitely his other book, The Tiger's Cave, but I am pretty certain it's the First Zen Reader,
his earlier book. We have, or should have, both of those in the Order Library. I certainly did
have them; I haven't looked at them for a long time.
Ratnaprabha: And the third and third and a half are of a slightly different nature: c) the origin
of Avalokitesvara's Thousand Armed form, and also d) the birth of Tara from
Avalokitesvara's tears.
S: I can't give any particular source. I heard or read these stories so many years ago, I don't
really know what is the real source or the original source. I have seen several different
versions also, I think. I think I read a new version not so very long ago; I am just trying to
think where that was. I did read, not so long ago, another version in which a single tear
dropped down from Avalokitesvara's eyes, and then that, after it touched the earth, ...

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