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Three Jewels - Chapters 10 13 and 15

by Sangharakshita


Chapters focusing respectively on
The Round, The Spiral and The Spiritual Community:
Chapter 10 - The Wheel of Life,
Chapter 13 - The Stages of The Path
and Chapter 15 - The Assembly of the Elect
(Sangharakshita, Windhorse, Purley, 1977.
First Published Rider, London 1967)
Note that the text has been revised since this seminar.
Held at: Aryatara Community, Purley, Surrey.
Date: 1977Those Present: The Venerable Sangharakshita, Vangisa, Vajradaka, Vairocana, Vajrayogini,
Lokamitra, Suvrata, Abhaya (Mike Kennedy), Devaraja, Aryamitra, Ratnaketu.
[Tape 1]
Sangharakshita: Before we actually begin there are two points to be made. First of all this
study retreat is a bit unusual inasmuch as we don't usually have so many people. Generally
speaking we find the fewer the better, but inasmuch as this is also another kind of retreat,
culminating in five ordinations, we are having more people for the study than normally we
would do. So
let's see how it goes. We'll be following our usual procedure and just taking it in turns to read
from the text, one by one, and then just commenting on or discussing, any point that happens
to arise from the reading. So we'll follow that usual procedure and see how it goes, even
though we do have twice as many people as we usually do have for study purposes.
The second point relates to what we shall actually be studying. We are studying the Wheel of
Life, and the whole chapter falls quite naturally into two halves more or less. The first
covering karma - certain technicalities of karma, and the other covering the Wheel of Life
itself. Now what I suggest we do is - because we've only three hours for this particular chapter
- we to through the first half rather more rapidly, that is up to our coffee break, discussing
only a few passages which raise matters of general importance. We shall find a lot of detail in
this part of the chapter an it isn't necessary to discuss every item.
So we'll just read, more or less, straight through this first half of the chapter, just stopping to
discuss sections which raise quite important matters of principle, and not allowing ourselves
to be bogged down in detail very much; and then of course after the coffee break, we'll be into
the Wheel of Life proper, which is our main theme for this morning.
So let's start off with the Wheel of Life and go round in a circle, each reading a paragraph at a
"The laws in accordance with which individualized consciousness determines conditioned
being are covered by the compendious term Karma, while the actual process is elucidated in
the complex of teachings pictorially represented in Buddhist art by the 'Wheel of Life'
S: This is rather cryptic. It follows from what has been said in the previous chapter, but as it
may not be altogether clear, as it's very condensed, I'll just briefly explain what that means.
We have first of all, as it were, two things. There's consciousness and there's being. So far as
human beings are concerned at least you can't altogether separate the two. You can certainly
distinguish. There is an aspect which we can call consciousness, there's an aspect which we
can call being, and these two are related. And as regards consciousness, there is
consciousness which is individualized, consciousness at the centre of which there is as it were
an ego, or self, for want of a better term, and consciousness at the centre of which there is not
any such ego or self. That's as regards consciousness. Then as regards being, there is being
which is conditioned, being which arises in dependence on conditions, and being which is
unconditioned. Now the conditioned being is determined by the individualized consciousness,
according to certain laws, and these laws are all summed up in Buddhism by the word karma.
Karma is the sum total of all those laws in accordance with which a particular kind of
conditioned being follows from a particular kind of individualized consciousness. The laws
governing that transition as it were are called karma, and the actual details of the process,
how it happens, its different phases, these are all pictorially represented in Buddhist art in the
Wheel of Life.
So therefore in this chapter first of all karma, and then the Wheel of Life.
___: What kind of beings are not conditioned by karma?
S: Those beings which represent, we may say, or embody, different stages of the path, which
is non-conditioned, or different aspects of the goal itself, that is the bodhisattvas, buddhas and
so on. Not that if they have a physical existence that physical existence isn't governed by
ordinary natural laws, but in their inner being they are no longer bound by that or even they
enter voluntarily into that sort of situation. But the situation in which they are, including their
own, as it were, embodied being, doesn't follow from any limitation of their consciousness.
"So far as its usage in connection with Buddhism is concerned, the word karma is often
employed in a gravely erroneous manner. Some writers make it mean not only action, its
literal meaning, but the result of action, for which Buddhist literature reserves separate terms
such as karmavipaka and karmaphala."
S: We're very familiar with these sort of misusages of the term. If you say. 'Oh I guess it's my
karma, oh that must be my karma, something has happened to me, it's my karma', this is a
very loose usage of the term indeed. Strictly speaking karma means just action, not the results
of action. There's a separate term for that, as I've said, karmaphala, which means the fruit of
karma, the result of karma, or karmavipaka, which means the fruition of karma.
"Others use it in the sense of fate or destiny, sometimes even going so far as to maintain that
according to Buddhism whatever happens to us, whether pleasant or painful, comes about, as
the result of previous karma. The confusion must be cleared up before the different types of
karma are enumerated."
S: This is the first thing. Before we go on to deal with the different kinds of karma, we must
be absolutely clear what karma is. Karma is just action. Action as it were of the
individualized consciousness. Willed action as we shall see a bit later on. It's certainly not
action in general. It's certainly not fate, it's certainly not destiny. We are going into now these
various confusions.
Devaraja: Karma vipaka. What was that again?
S: Vipaka means sort of fruition.
Devaraja: Fruition of action, and karmaphala is...?.
S: Fruit, that's literally fruit. It's the same sort of idea. You can say vipaka means ripening.
Ripening or fruition.
"Though having the literal meaning of action, karma in this context invariably means act of
S: That is willed action.
"Thus we get the important equation karma = cetana (volition) = samskaras ('formative' or
rebirth-producing psychological factors)."
S: Yes, this is a well known, as it were, equation in Buddhist thought. First of all karma, the
action, then karma is cetana - what sort of action? - not just action as mind in the conception
sense but action as it were of your total being, the total energy of your being, which is, in
some cases conscious, and then of course we call it willed. And these in term equal the
samskaras as they're called when they appear in the list of the twelve nidanas, that is to say
the so-called formative or rebirth-producing psychological factors. So it's quite important to
bear this in mind, that karma means cetana and cetana means samskaras. Cetana's often
translated as mind, but it isn't that, it's more like volition. Volition or will has been explained
as the sum total of psychic energy available to the conscious subject. But sometimes you're
not quite clear where the conscious subject ends and when it begins, because sometimes the
conscious subject is a bit more conscious than it is at other times. It sort of shades off. So
what then enters into the definition of will shades off. Sometimes the energy is very clear
because the conscious subject is very clear, and sometimes the conscious subject is not so
clear. So the energy is not so much the energy of volition in the fullest sense, [4] but a sort of
drift, a sort of tendency not completely conscious, in a particular direction.
Vajrayogini: It's quite a difference when it's conscious!
S: Yes, right. This is how it is. So we mustn't interpret the word volition too as it were
sharply. There are different grades, different, as it were, degrees of the impetus, different
degrees of clarity. But all this, whether clear or relatively unclear or even confused, is
summed up in cetana or samskaras. Cetana to me - I don't know if this is borne out by the
text, has the suggestion more of the rather clear volition. Samskaras means the whole sort of
muddled heap of conscious decisions, actual volitions, vague drifting tendencies only partly
conscious, sort of glimmering with a bit of consciousness every now and then, the whole sort
of heap and collection, all that drift and general tendency of one's being, this is known as the
samskaras, and it's they, according to Buddhism, which ultimately are responsible for us
coming into yet another life. It's the motive force in all of them to bring about yet ...

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