The vajra: cutting through to the truth

2 Sangharakshita

II Sangharakshita’s Training

What we are left with after the removal of falsities and exaggerations from Sangharakshita’s biographies is a list of experiences... dressed in a rich and colourful robe of poetic hyperbole... If Lingwood had told the truth from the beginning about his status and activities instead of lying for almost four decades, he would never have accumulated as large an entourage as those who now, in their ignorance, follow him. [ The FWBO Files p.9 ]12 ]

a| Sangharakshita as a wandering ascetic and in the Theravadin Tradition

He claims to have lived the life of a wandering ascetic in India. We are presented with little evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, in one publication he openly admits to never having been alone during this particular period of his life, and to have spent fifteen months in the same place... [ The FWBO Files p.5 ]

In The Rainbow Road , [ 13 ] Sangharakshita gives a detailed account of his life from the time that he went forth in 1947 until his sojourn with Bhikkhu Kashyap a few months after his sramanera ordination in 1949. This life is principally characterised by wandering and asceticism and, as Sangharakshita has always said, he followed it in the company of the friend who was ordained as Ven. Buddharakshita. [ 14 ]

We are told: he studied Abhidhamma, Pali and Logic at Benares University with Ven. Jagdish Kashyap, a Buddhist teacher of the Theravada tradition with whom Sangharakshita claims to have had a deep and meaningful relationship. Yet, according to Sangharakshita’s own writings, his whole relationship with Kashyap lasted a total of seven months, a thoroughly insufficient period of time for any such relationship to develop. [ The FWBO Files p.5 ]

The Rainbow Road describes how the two lived together from mid-1949 in Kashyapji’s small house at Benares University. Under Kashyap’s guidance Sangharakshita embarked on a course of study that was to keep me busy without interruption — for seven of the quietest and happiest months I have ever known. Although subsequently he rarely studied with such intensity under such ideal conditions, prolonged and deep reflection on the Dharma has been a lifelong habit. The success of these studies may be assessed by considering Sangharakshita’s subsequent writing and teaching. [ 15 ] In February 1950 Kashyap and Sangharakshita went on tour together through Bihar, eventually arriving in Kalimpong, where Sangharakshita was left to work for the good of Buddhism. They remained in touch for many years: Kashyapji participated in Sangharakshita’s full ordination (upasampada), 18 months later, acting as teacher (acharya) at the ceremony. [ 16 ] Kashyapji and Sangharakshita continued to correspond and visit one another until 1964, when Sangharakshita returned to Britain. [ 17 ] This appears to have been a relationship of genuine kalyana mitrata (spiritual friendship). [ 18 ]

The FWBO Files cites two Theravadins who questioned Sangharakshita’s knowledge of their tradition. [ 19 ] Bhikkhu Brahmavamso’s view that Sangharakshita’s 43 Years ago: Reflections on my Bhikkhu Ordination displays the misunderstandings of an outsider (p.5), is a personal opinion, stated in a polemical book review. [ 20 ] More broadly, the fullest evidence for Sangharakshita’s understanding of Theravada teaching lies in the many books he has written expounding the Pali Canon, and teachings drawn from it by the Theravadin tradtion. He has likewise maintained friendships with Theravadin monks and lay people over the years who would not share Brahmavamso’s opinion.

Sangharakshita’s memoirs recount in great detail his involvement with other Theravadin bhikkhus. Theravadin bhikkhus are not required, as The FWBO Files suggest, to undertake systematic training in textual and contemplative curricula (p.8). What is required is strict adherence to the bhikkhu pratimoksa and rules of the Vinaya. Sangharakshita asserts that he scrupulously followed this disciplinary code in all its major requirements for more than twenty years. He was fully accepted by the Sangha as a fellow bhikkhu; indeed he was entrusted with responsibilities, such as the editorship of The Maha Bodhi Journal, which would only have been given to a bhikkhu in good standing.

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Footnotes

12 ]
Page references to The FWBO-Files are to a bound version that was distributed postally. As an anonymous production, no publication details are available.

N.b Clicking a hyperlink reference to the online edition of The FWBO-Files will take you as close as possible to the quoted paragraph. Given the limitations of the World Wide Web, it is not possible to pinpoint exact paragraphs.
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13 ]
This material was initially published under as The Thousand-Petalled Lotus, (Heinemann, 1976), and has been incorporated into The Rainbow Road op. cit.
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14 ]
It is true that his life at this time was not one of literally, from day to day, wandering from tree root to tree root as Dharmachari Abhaya’s introduction to the first edition of Peace is a Fire, a collection of Sangharakshita’s aphorisms, poetically puts it. None the less Sangharakshita was clearly an ascetic: he had very few possessions, did not handle money, and he did wander in the time-honoured fashion.
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15 ]
Sangharakshita’s knowledge and understanding of the Buddhist tradition is formidable by any standards and is easily attested by his principal works, A Survey of Buddhism op. cit.; The Three Jewels: An Introduction to Buddhism, (Rider & Co., 1967), The Eternal Legacy: An Introduction to the Canonical Literature of Buddhism, (Tharpa, 1985). Between them, these books outline the development of the three major schools of Indian Buddhism and their subsequent transmission throughout Asia. The author of The FWBO Files appears to be unfamiliar with these works. Sangharakshita’s knowledge of the Pali Canon and the teachings found within it is additionally attested by Who Is The Buddha? (Windhorse Publications, 1994); The Buddha’s Victory, (Windhorse Publications, 1991), among other books. Sangharakshita has also conducted numerous seminars on texts from the Pali Canon, available from Free Buddhist Audio.
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16 ]
Facing Mt. Kanchenjunga op. cit., p.116.
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17 ]
For instance, they shared the same Dharma lecturing platforms; Kashyap helped secure financial support for Sangharakshita; Kashyap sent some of his later disciples to stay with Sangharakshita in Kalimpong; they were part of the official delegation accompanying the Sacred Relics of the Arahants Shariputra and Maudgalyayana on their tour in Nepal, Sikkim and northern India.
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18 ]
The source cited for the claim that this was a deep and meaningful relationship is John Snelling’s The Buddhist Handbook. But there is no mention in John Snelling’s book of Sangharakshita claiming a deep and meaningful relationship with Kashyap; and there are no such words in Sangharakshita’s own memoirs.
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19 ]
The other Theravadin is Dhiravamsa, a Thai monk resident in England in the 1960s. These are second-hand comments, with no citation of a reference, regarding a subject — vipassana meditation — on which Sangharakshita has never written or lectured. Those wishing to assess the understanding of vipassana practices in the FWBO are referred to Kamalasila, Meditation: The Buddhist Way of Tranquillity and Insight, (Windhorse Publications, 1992).
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20 ]
Similarly, Sangharakshita’s critique of Theravadin formalism, which argues against what might be called the misunderstanding of the insider, also deserves serious attention in its own right. Quoting one side of a debate is surely inadequate. Sangharakshita, Forty-Three Years Ago: Reflections on my Bhikkhu Ordination (Windhorse Publications, 1993); Sangharakshita, Was the Buddha a Bhikkhu? (Windhorse Publications, 1994).
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