The vajra: cutting through to the truth

3 Sangharakshita’s Teachings in Theory and Practice

I Sangharakshita’s Actual Teaching

a | The Question of Orthodoxy

It is apparent from The FWBO Files’ account of Sangharakshita’s training that it equates “orthodox” Buddhism with the teaching and institutions of one or other of its various Eastern denominations. Sangharakshita disagrees with this approach for well-argued reasons which are thoroughly based on the canonical scriptures of Buddhism, and take into account the precedent established by Buddhist history. The FWBO Files does not address this argument. Indeed, whether through misunderstanding, ignorance or wilful distortion, it fails even to acknowledge the principal strands of Sangharakshita’s teaching. Instead it offers a distorted version of various subsidiary subjects, with no reference to their doctrinal context.

As scholarly accounts of Sangharakshita’s work [ 92 ] make clear, his teaching is an attempt to discern those aspects of Buddhism that are universal, and therefore are applicable in the West, as opposed to those that are specific to a single school of Buddhism which developed under particular historical conditions in an Asian culture. This approach has been described as integral Buddhism (Baumann); or universal Buddhism (Rawlinson). [ 93 ] As Sangharakshita says: Buddhism consists of a transcendental essence and a mundane expression.; [ 94 ] Far from being of an extremely sectarian nature [ The FWBO Files, 16 ], as The FWBO Files says, this leads him to the non-sectarian position that there is a fundamental unity between all Buddhist schools.95 ] Andrew Rawlinson comments: If non-denominational Buddhism continues in the West, it will be largely due to the efforts of Sangharakshita.96 ]

For Sangharakshita, the proper test of orthodoxy in Buddhism is whether a teaching is true to this timeless core, not whether it adheres to the doctrinal particulars of one school. He argues that this is, in fact, the character of the Buddhist tradition as a whole. Buddhism has evolved over the centuries as circumstances have changed, although its major schools have been characterised by a common endeavour — following the path to Enlightenment. In his later work Sangharakshita has articulated this common core in terms of the key Buddhist practice of going for Refuge to the Three Jewels, and he identifies this as the essence of Buddhist orthodoxy. [ 97 ]

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92 ]
In addition to Rawlinson and Batchelor see also Martin Baumann “Buddhist Dissemination in the West: Phases, Orders and Integrative Buddhism”, Day Internacionales Asienforum 27/ 3–4 (1996): 345–62. Sandra Bell “Change and Identity of the Western Buddhist Order”, Scottish Journal of Religious Studies vol. XVII no 2 (1996), pp.87–107. David Scott (Brunel University) The Friends of The Western Buddhist Order: British Buddhism in Transition?, unpublished paper.
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93 ]
Bauman, ibid. p.337; The Book of Enlightened Masters, op. cit., p.503.
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94 ]
The Meaning of Orthodoxy, p.288.
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95 ]
Ibid. p.287.
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96 ]
The Book of Enlightened Masters, op. cit., p.507.
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97 ]
Extending the Hand of Fellowship (Windhorse Publications, 1996).
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