Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Revering and Relying upon the Dharma: Subhuti introduces Sangharakshita's approach to right view

In February this year Dharmachari Subhuti conducted a number of interviews with Sangharakshita about his presentation of the Dharma. The full article can be read here;
Below is Subhuti's introduction to his article. He writes -

“'What is our fundamental philosophical position?', mused Sangharakshita during a meeting of senior members of the Triratna Order in the 1980's. I was struck by his reflective tone – and the fact that he gave no answer: this was work in progress.

"Without interrogating the notion 'fundamental philosophical position' too closely, it broadly corresponds in this context to the Buddhist term 'samyag-dṛṣṭi' or 'Right View' – 'Perfect Vision' in Sangharakshita's translation. Over his many years of teaching, Sangharakshita has expounded Right View in many ways, using the terminology and perspectives of a wide range of historical Buddhist schools and translating key terms variously, borrowing from the philosophical, psychological, poetic, and even religious vocabulary of the West. He has also formed his own distinctive language for communicating the Buddha's view of life, in such phrases as the 'Higher Evolution' or the 'Cosmic Going for Refuge'. The remarkable richness and diversity of what he has said and written is certainly, besides its luminous clarity, one of the most attractive features of the Triratna Community, the movement he has founded, giving it a particularly broad appeal and deep scope. However, it also leaves potential problems. Consistency may indeed be a foolish hobgoblin, but inconsistency can lead to misunderstanding and confusion.

"We need to consider the whole grand sweep of Sangharakshita's presentation carefully if we are to discern a fundamental philosophical position. But this is not an easy task. While carrying it out, there are two main points to be born in mind, because they account for some of the apparent inconsistency.

"First, his exposition of one or other Buddhist tradition should not necessarily be taken for approval of it. He has often found himself elucidating teachings so that his disciples can appreciate the Buddhist background from which they have sprung. In doing so, he has engaged his considerable powers of empathy with those points of view and has tried to understand them on their own terms, thereby helping us get inside them. Indeed, I have heard him do the same for works of literature and even for the doctrines of other religions. However, his making intelligible an aspect of the Buddhist tradition, even revealing its spiritual efficacy, does not necessarily mean that he considers it useful in its own right or that it should become part of the Triratna Community's currency.

"Second, we must take into account Sangharakshita's own development as a practitioner and as a teacher. Throughout his life he has been deepening his understanding of the Dharma and clarifying his expression of it. Although there is striking continuity in his understanding from his earliest writings to the present day, there is nonetheless a discernible evolution over time: it is possible to recognise the gradual emergence of an integral core that is distinctive to him. Sangharakshita has himself described the unfolding of the core of that core in his The History of My Going for Refuge, and similar development can be seen elsewhere.

"We must then always read his earlier teachings in the light of his later. This does not by any means require us to discard his earlier material – for instance, burning any book in which he uses terminology borrowed from the German Idealists, like 'The Absolute', which he now eschews. Nor yet does it require us to cut out the entire Mahayana, because he now finds some of its metaphysicising problematically reified, despite his earlier use of it. What it implies is that we should have a good understanding of his most recent perspective when we look at his earlier work and read or listen to it accordingly. And, of course, his disciples should take great care in how they themselves use that earlier material in their own practice. When they teach the Dharma they should ensure that the basic position is clear and, if they choose to refer to other, more ambiguous material, they should make it obvious that they are doing so for particular purposes.

"Even when all this is taken into account, Sangharakshita's question of thirty or so years ago still requires an answer. What is the Triratna Community's fundamental philosophical position? Insofar as the movement is founded upon Sangharakshita's particular presentation of the Dharma, that requires us to know his fundamental philosophical position. What are we to make of his various ways of speaking about Right View, whether those derived from tradition or of his own coinage? I have been especially concerned that those of us who are his disciples hear something definitive from him about such problematic terms as 'The Absolute', 'The Unconditioned', 'The Transcendental', etc., as well as 'Cosmic Going for Refuge' etc. So in March this year I had a series of conversations with him in which we discussed his latest thinking about these matters.

"I recorded our sessions, intending to transcribe and edit them, however Sangharakshita preferred that I should write them up in my own words, since the topic requires a greater precision than he can martial in a spoken exchange - the deterioration of his sight not permitting him to commit his thought to paper himself. This I have done in what follows. I have tried to expound what Sangharakshita said to me at that time, not only on the basis of what he then said but also what I have found elsewhere in his work that seems relevant, and I have expanded upon his thought in my own words. What I have written has been carefully checked by Sangharakshita and can be taken as accurately representing his thought – as accurately as is possible in another's words and style".

Subhuti's full article can be read here;

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