The vajra: cutting through to the truth

3 Sangharakshita’s Teachings in Theory and Practice

II. The Teachings of the FWBO

a | “Higher and Lower Beings”

“The Higher Evolution”

Sangharakshita’s discussion of the Higher Evolution of Man is invoked by The FWBO Files as the second piece of evidence that he is influenced by Nietszche. In fact this teaching needs consideration in its own terms. Sangharakshita’s employment of the notion of evolution as a means of expounding the Dharma is an example of his translating Buddhist ideas into a Western idiom. Closely paralleling the frequent use of images of growth which are found throughout the Buddhist Canon, Sangharakshita makes an analogy between the progressive nature of biological evolution (“the lower evolution”) and that of the spiritual path (“the Higher Evolution”).

There has been considerable exposition of Sangharakshita’s use of the concept of the Higher Evolution elsewhere, [ 106 ] and the present issue is simply what one thinks of his approach. Some may argue that no translation or reformulation of ideas is permissible — and the term for such a position is fundamentalism. If one does accept that such translation is permissible, two considerations arise. Firstly, the manner of the translation should be in accordance with Buddhist educational methodology. In this regard Sangharakshita says he uses “evolution” according to Mahayana principles. He says that on returning to the West:

I... soon felt the need, purely as a “skilful means” (upaya-kausalya), of a principle sufficiently familiar to the modern mind not to require much explanation and capable, at the same time, of being generalised in such a way as to provide a medium for the exposition of Buddhism. [ 107 ]

Secondly, it should be demonstrable that the translation is true to the meaning of traditional Buddhist teaching. Sangharakshita’s teaching is notable for its clarity of exposition and the transparency of the process that leads to his conclusions. Far from being based on the Renaissance “Great Chain of Being”, as The FWBO Files groundlessly asserts (p.17), “the Higher Evolution"” is very clearly expounded by Sangharakshita in this way. [ 108 ] He both accounts for his translations in relation to specific Buddhist terms, and also in relation to the spirit that underlies Buddhism as a whole:

The Buddhist scriptures, especially those of the Mahayana, quite clearly envisage a universe ... in which, under the guidance of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas innumerable, all sentient beings are ultimately destined for Enlightenment.... In this sense, one may therefore speak of Buddhism as a religion of evolution, of spiritual evolution, on a cosmic scale. Indeed, in texts such as the Saddharma Pundarika this is exactly how the Mahayana sees itself. No tour de force of interpretation is required. [ 109 ]

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Footnotes

106 ]
The FWBO and “Protestant Buddhism”, op.cit., pp.179-184 gives an account of how Sangharakshita came to use the term and how he conceives its relation to Buddhist teachings; A New Voice, op.cit., pp.75–81 gives a summary his teaching on the subject; Robin Cooper, The Evolving Mind (Windhorse Publications, 1996), is a book-length expansion and development of these ideas by Dharmachari Ratnaprabha who trained as a scientist, and lectured in the Open University.
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107 ]
The FWBO and “Protestant Buddhism”, op.cit., p.184.
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108 ]
Ibid. p.181–2. He relates the higher evolution to the notions of the path, the development of the Arya Sangha, and the universal aspect of the bodhisattva ideal.
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109 ]
Ibid. p.181.
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