The Complete Works of Sangharakshita Vol 13: Eastern and Western Traditions

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Sangharakshita Eastern and Western Traditions


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Windhorse Publications 17e Sturton Street Cambridge cb1 2sn uk © Sangharakshita, 2019 The right of Sangharakshita to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Cover design by Dhammarati Cover images: Back flap © Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx; front: Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, ????????????. Typesetting and layout by Ruth Rudd Printed by Bell & Bain Ltd, Glasgow British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-911407-35-5 (hardback) ISBN 978-1-911407-36-2 (paperback)

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List of Illustrations Foreword 00


tibetan buddhism: an introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

How Buddhism Came to Tibet 00 The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism 00 The ‘Reincarnations’ of the Dalai Lama 00 Monks and Laity in Buddhist Tibet 00 Symbols of Tibetan Buddhist Art 00 The Four Foundation Yogas 00 Tantric Initiation 00 The Future of Tibetan Buddhism 00 creative symbols of tantric buddhism

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Introduction 00 The Tibetan Wheel of Life 00 The Tantric Stupa 00 The Sacred Thunderbolt 00 The Cosmic Refuge Tree and the Archetypal Guru 00 The Cremation Ground And The Celestial Maidens 00 Offerings And Self-Sacrifice 00 Colours and Mantric Sound 00 The Five Buddhas, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ 00   /

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the essence of zen

1 2 3 4 5

Preface 00 Introduction 00 A Special Transmission Outside the Scriptures 00 No Dependence On Words And Letters 00 Direct Pointing To The Mind 00 Seeing Into One’s Own Nature and Realizing Buddhahood


the fwbo and ‘protestant buddhism’ 1 2 3 4 5 6

Introduction 00 The Burden of Self 00 Protestantism and Buddhism 00 Modernism and Buddhism 00 Culture and Buddhism 00 The Cultural Translation of Buddhism Appendix: A Letter to Dr Zaehner



from genesis to the diamond sutra ¯

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Preface 00 Early Memories 00 The Bible as Literature 00 The Church 00 The Apostles’ Creed 00 Christian Mythology 00 Christian Ethics 00 Saints and Mystics 00 Jesus 00 Barlaam and Josaphat 00 Buddhism and Christianity 00 Sources 00 Notes and References Index 00


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list of illustrations

p. 124 p. 136 p. 142 p. 156 p. 158 p. 164 p. 167 p. 175 p. 181 p. 185 p. 188 p. 190 p. 206 p. 210 p. 214 p. 215 p. 218 p. 233 p. 235 p. 241 p. 245 p. 256 p. 257

The Tibetan Wheel of Life The seeds of the six realms Nepalese-style stupa The five elements shown at the chakras Initiation vase Vajra Jambhala Vajrapāṇi Vajra bell Makara Vajrasattva Padmasambhava Padmasambhava refuge tree Triratna Tree of Refuge and Respect Milarepa Tsongkhapa Vajrayoginī The eight cremation grounds The form of the mandala, with its lotuses, vajras, and flames Sarvabuddhaḍākinī Siṁhamukta The seven traditional offerings Offering goddess   /

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p. 259 p. 264 p. 265 p. 266 p. 269 p. 286 p. 289 p. 294 p. 303 p. 312 p. 314

The flower of the senses Offering mandala Mount Meru Offering mudrā Knowledge ḍākinī Kurukullā oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ Mañjughoṣa The mandala of the five Buddhas Yab-yum figures Green Tārā

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In the 1960s westerners were particularly attracted to, indeed fascinated by, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, and Tantra, with first Zen and then Tibetan teachers arriving in the West. In this exotic atmosphere, Sangharakshita gave the lectures from which the first three books in the volume originate, seeking to express the ‘essence’ of Zen, and we can say no less the ‘essence’ of Tibetan Buddhism and the ‘essence’ of the Tantra. However, even if many westerners were attracted to these Buddhist traditions, like it or not they were also the inheritors of two thousand years of Christianity. The English academic whose work impelled Sangharakshita to write The FWBO and ‘Protestant Buddhism’: An Affirmation and a Protest argued that the fwbo (the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, later the Triratna Buddhist Community) founded by Sangharakshita had much in common with the Protestantism that grew out of the Reformation of the seventeenth century, in its reaction to the Church as embodied in Catholicism. This Sangharakshita vigorously denies – the ‘protest’ – while taking the opportunity to lay out no less vigorously a number of the principles and practices upon which the fwbo was in fact based – the ‘affirmation’. A work of a very different nature, From Genesis to the Diamond Sūtra, while indicating some of the harm Sangharakshita regards Christianity as having done and making it clear why he finds himself unable to believe in or accept orthodox Christian doctrine, also expresses the author’s wish to write about what he has personally appreciated of f o r e w o r d   /

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the influence of Christianity (which of course also has its origins in the East) on western culture. Turning now to the first of the books in the volume, as a look at the chapter headings for Tibetan Buddhism: an Introduction demonstrates, in these lectures Sangharakshita surveyed his subject from several angles – historical, doctrinal, ecclesiastical, and symbolic – as well as introducing some of the Tantric practices which form the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet, using information gleaned and insights arising not only from his reading but also from his meetings with Tibetan lamas in Kalimpong in the 1950s and early 1960s, as recounted in Precious Teachers and elsewhere. However, it is the last chapter entitled ‘The Future of Tibetan Buddhism’ which may be of particular interest. At the beginning of this chapter, Sangharakshita asks whether Tibetan Buddhism has any future and gives the perhaps shocking answer: ‘As far as we can see, it has no future.’ If this prognosis seems unduly pessimistic, I invite you to turn to this chapter and read Sangharakshita’s reasoning. He goes on to argue that perhaps in the future Buddhism will be stronger in the West than in the East, whilst at the same time asserting that ‘it is important for us in the West to study, to practise, and if possible to preserve Tibetan Buddhism’. He expresses the view that westerners are interested in essence, not trappings, and that this applies to all the forms of Buddhism with which westerners have begun to become acquainted. Then he comes to the second fundamental question of this chapter, and, in a way, of this series of lectures: ‘The main question we need to ask ourselves is: what can we learn from [Tibetan Buddhism]?’ Not only, he argues, can one tradition be the key to understanding the whole Buddhist tradition, ‘but we can also learn things which we may not learn from any other form of Buddhism, because Tibetan Buddhism is in many respects unique’. What we can learn from Tibetan Buddhism includes how to achieve a harmonious synthesis – described as ‘rich and magnificent’ – of all the different elements in the total Buddhist tradition. Sangharakshita’s writings over more than seven decades, as well as the principles underpinning the Buddhist movement he founded in 1967, demonstrate how important he saw this synthesis as being. Although originating in India, Tantric Buddhism was preserved for us most of all in Tibet, but Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism is a rather different book from the introduction to Tibetan Buddhism just xii  /  f o r e w o r d

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discussed. Its purpose is well set out by Sangharakshita in his introduction: ‘Tantric Buddhism is concerned not with theories or speculations, not with formal religiosity or external piety, but with the direct experience, in the depths of one’s being, of what one truly and essentially is.’ As he goes on to suggest, the more receptivity to the resonances of the words we can bring to our reading of the chapters in this book, and the more we can see in our mind’s eye the pictures they conjure up, the more alive the symbols will become. This is because ‘symbols … are full of energy, and give birth to life, spiritual life, in us. They are by their very nature creative. The creative symbols of Tantric Buddhism are not just of historical interest.’ This is important, indeed of the essence not just of the Tantra but of Buddhism itself, because ‘the progressive transformation of psycho-spiritual energy is the central business of the spiritual life’. In order to benefit from Sangharakshita’s survey of some of the symbols found in the Tantra we will not necessarily need to undertake the actual Tantric practices and rituals, although some of them are described, thanks to the translation of their meaning which Sangharakshita provides. For example, he explains the cremation ground as a willingness to enter into a ‘crucial situation’ which can be transformative for us, while the chapter on offerings and self-sacrifice introduces the topic of devotion and gratitude, as a counter to the common instinct these days to want to pull down, denigrate, and deflate. Furthermore, the element of animism found in Tantric Buddhism is taken as an encouragement to enter into relationship with the universe – ‘If you want to love it, you have to see it as personal’ – and this seems particularly important in these days of possibly impending ecological disaster. In 1973, out of the many lecture series he had given in the preceding several years, Sangharakshita chose for his first book published under the auspices of the fwbo his 1965 series The Essence of Zen. This must partly have been because Zen was popular in the West, but the series also gave him the opportunity to do further important translation work from East to West. For instance, in the first of the five short chapters which make up this book, he addresses what he identifies as the three most common current western misunderstandings of Zen: firstly, considering that it is just intellectual, secondly, divorcing Zen from Buddhism, and thirdly, mistaking the finger for the moon, which is to say taking particular methods and teachings as ends in themselves rather than as so many pointers to the experience of Enlightenment. f o r e w o r d   /

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In the spirit of the harmonious synthesis of all the different elements in the total Buddhist tradition which as we have seen he so admired in Tibetan Buddhism, he informed his listeners, and then through this book his readers, that ‘despite the apparent differences, even mutual opposition (of different Buddhist schools), we should study and learn to appreciate them all, thus making ourselves acquainted, as far as possible, with the whole vast range of Buddhist thought and practice. Only in this way will it be possible for us to obtain a balanced picture of Buddhism. Otherwise, we might commit the mistake of identifying Buddhism with one or another of its expressions, maintaining that this, and this alone, was the true embodiment of the Buddha’s teaching. Such a course would be unfortunate.’ It would be unfortunate not least because we would miss out on some of the particular features of the Zen schools of Buddhism which Sangharakshita draws out in The Essence of Zen. In particular he emphasizes that Zen is essentially concerned with the transmission of the living spirit of Buddhism which is made possible through the high level of spiritual communication existing between master and disciple, usually within the context of meditation and study. In his preface Sangharakshita informs us that it is very doubtful whether he would have ventured to speak on this subject at all if it were not for his regular contact, over several years whilst living in Kalimpong, with Mr Chen, an advanced practitioner both of Tantric Buddhism and of Chan (the Chinese form of Zen). At the time Mr Chen refused to act as a guru and accepted no disciples, but nevertheless Sangharakshita was subsequently to name him as one of his eight principal teachers. Towards the end of The Essence of Zen, Sangharakshita asks us to take these five short lectures as a direct pointing to our mind: ‘Take it as a talk about direct pointing to the mind, and you will miss the whole point.… What I have said should be taken … as being itself a direct pointing to the mind.’ So, when you read these chapters, see if you can hear Sangharakshita speaking. As Sangharakshita writes in his preface, he resisted the temptation to recast the talks in more literary form, writing that ‘in the following pages I am still just talking.… I wonder if you can hear me?’ Can you hear the mystery beyond the words, just as Mahākāśyapa understood when the Buddha held up a golden flower? As Sangharakshita says as he concludes these talks: ‘Zen is simply a voice crying “Wake up! Wake up!”’ xiv  /  f o r e w o r d

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In 1991, in an English university journal, appeared an article entitled Protestant Buddhism? The Cultural Translation of Buddhism in England. As Sangharakshita writes in his introduction to the fourth book to be found in this volume, The FWBO and ‘Protestant Buddhism’: an Affirmation and a Protest, the information given about the fwbo in his article by the young academic Philip Mellor was either so simplistic and selective as to give a quite misleading impression or simply erroneous. With Sangharakshita’s encouragement Dharmachari Kulananda sent to the journal a response correcting a number of factual errors, but this was published alongside an immediate rebuttal from Mellor, who argued that Kulananda’s response only showed that the fwbo ‘appears hesitant to respond constructively to academic analyses stressing its relationship with contemporary trends in western modernity’. At this, Sangharakshita himself put pen to paper, producing a detailed critical commentary of Mellor’s article, correcting facts and no less importantly challenging the reliability of his academic analysis. Sangharakshita’s motivation to write a reply was not primarily to clear up misunderstandings in academia – which to judge from Mellor’s response to Kulananda might have proved impossible – and nor was it only to protect the reputation of the fwbo. His main concern was that western Buddhism as a whole should not take a ‘Protestant’ course, which would in effect make it into a ‘secular humanism’, reducing the Dharma to something purely rational and excluding any imaginative element. Since the publication of this book, on several occasions he has told his disciples that he regards this as one of his most important works, for the reason just given and also because he wanted to demonstrate to western Buddhists in general and his disciples in particular the need to answer critics intelligently and effectively. This was important because Mellor’s article is not simply about misrepresentation but also about misunderstanding, and if Mellor can have these misunderstandings, or others like them, presumably so can others, whether academics or not. As Nagabodhi wrote in his introduction to the original publication in 1992, ‘It has to be said that this book is not for the squeamish.… Sangharakshita’s concern is with the deeper issues, but if Mellor’s treatment of his theme has dictated that an “adversarial” approach is the only way to join in, then so be it.’ We should not underestimate the extent of Mellor’s adversarial approach, even though he presents f o r e w o r d   /

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his argument with references supposedly demonstrating academic objectivity. As along with Sangharakshita we go through Mellor’s text, he uncovers non sequiturs and misquotations, finds Mellor attributing to the fwbo views the exact opposite of those it actually holds and has always held, demonstrates Mellor’s specious logic, and indeed finds that his misrepresentation is ‘breathtaking’ and ‘cavalier’. Worst of all, perhaps, there seems to be a hidden agenda. (You will need to read the book to find out what this may be!) Sangharakshita’s polemical response reflects the fact that Mellor’s article was itself a polemic, i.e. a strong attack on the then fwbo (now Triratna Buddhist Community). In this polemic – as often elsewhere in his writing – Sangharakshita often uses references from literature including the Bible, both Old and New Testament. This comes naturally and easily to him though the contemporary reader may well miss the references. (In the Complete Works the editors have where possible provided those references in endnotes.) A striking example is the thrice repeated refrain, ‘But Mellor says … and Mellor has a PhD in the problems of theory and method in the study of contemporary religion.’ This ironic repetition, which some readers at first may feel is overdone, is inspired by Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar, thrice repeating his response to Brutus, with increasing irony, for Brutus has just murdered the emperor and claims to have done so for good reason: ‘For Brutus is an honourable man.…’ However, we must not forget that The FWBO and ‘Protestant Buddhism’ is an Affirmation as well as a Protest. As Sangharakshita says in his introduction, he wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to clarify his position on certain topics. In response to the proposition that the fwbo represents a ‘Protestant Buddhism’, although the fwbo’s critique of ‘mainstream Christianity’ represented by the Catholic Church is acknowledged, we also find a critique of ‘liberal Protestantism’s personalist understanding of religious significance’, thereby distancing the fwbo from the very view which Mellor has attributed to it, the argument central to Mellor’s thesis being that the fwbo embraces ‘individual rather than collective values’. Sangharakshita’s understanding of the relation between individual and collective values has a number of dimensions, and the opportunity to appreciate this is one of the several reasons why this book will repay careful study. For example, he argues in several places that moral decisions are indeed best left to xvi  /  f o r e w o r d

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individuals, but importantly only in the sense of the ‘individual-inrelation-to-Buddhahood’. Another reason this book is worth studying is that we find here important presentations of the Dharma and Sangharakshita’s distinctive approach to it. Amongst the topics covered are a number of aspects of sexual ethics – the sexual relationship itself, abortion, homosexuality, and celibacy or chastity – and also the individual in relation to family, charismatic authority, and the thinking regarding the giving of Pāli and Sanskrit names to members of the Western Buddhist Order. Sangharakshita’s response to Mellor also gives him an opportunity to explore what modernism is and is not in respect of contemporary Buddhism and to reject the belief that the new is by definition better than the old, especially as that belief finds expression in the sphere of religion. The work also includes a critical discussion of the scientific approach to Buddhism, and a useful and important exegesis in its own right of the role and radical nature of tradition. As Sangharakshita writes in his preface to From Genesis to the Diamond Sūtra: a Western Buddhist’s encounters with Chrisitianity, it had been his intention to write a full-length comparative study of Buddhism and Christianity. Having been unable to carry out this plan he decided in 2004, with the help of his friend Nityabandhu as amanuensis, to produce a work that would be largely autobiographical while also exploring some aspects of Christianity that were of interest to him: ‘I wanted to take stock of my attitude to Christianity as it had impinged on my life and thought in the last eighty years.’ Although, as he says, he wrote this book for his own satisfaction, he wanted also to share his experience with western Buddhists who, like him, had grown up within a Christian culture, as well as with Christians who might be interested in how he, as a western Buddhist, viewed their religion. By Christianity – which here he sometimes refers to as ‘mainstream Christianity’ – and ‘the Church’ he particularly means Roman Catholicism, this being the form of Christianity that has played a dominant part in the political and economic life of Western Europe until relatively recently, that is to say until the Reformation of the sixteenth century. This sets the scene for the fifth book in our volume. The book as a whole weaves together autobiographical material with reflections on Christianity from a western Buddhist perspective, and there is much of autobiographical interest here, especially the first chapter, entitled ‘Early Memories’, f o r e w o r d   /

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and the sixth chapter, ‘Christian Ethics’, and accounts of meetings and friendships with Christians at different times in his life. While we are told, in no uncertain terms, what Sangharakshita does not believe – see for example the fourth chapter, ‘The Apostles’ Creed’ – he finds much to appreciate, such as in Chapter 2, ‘The Bible as Literature’, Chapter 7, ‘Saints and Mystics’, and Chapter 9, the story of the monk Barlaam and the priest Josephat – which, as he explains, includes a Christianized version of episodes from the life of the Buddha which found its way into Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. No less appreciative are Sangharakshita’s recollections of visits to art galleries over many decades, with sometimes detailed descriptions of works of art depicting Christian mythology still vividly present to him in his mind’s eye (all from memory, his sight having failed). To take but one example, reflecting in Chapter 8 (‘Jesus’) on Leonardo da Vinci’s depiction of the Last Supper, which he visited in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, he writes, ‘I find it difficult to believe that Leonardo drew the head from a model, however much he might have idealized the features. Leonardo must have sought – and found – that beauty and celestial grace in the depths of his own soul.’ When I read this, I was reminded of Sangharakshita’s discussion of the nature of symbolism in his introduction to Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism. A symbol, he informs us, is illuminated by some other, higher dimension of reality. We have to be receptive to the symbol: ‘the symbolism is in the eye of the beholder’. It is only a symbol to the extent that you respond to it, feel for it. If the Buddha image were really a symbol for us, it would move us powerfully, and rouse and harness all our energies. So, reading the five books in this volume in this spirit, may our energies be aroused, so that the Dharma may flourish throughout the world, both East and West. Mahamati Great Malvern July 2018

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