II Sangharakshita’s Training
b | Sangharakshita — the Triyanist
To understand Sangharakshita’s subsequent training it is necessary to understand his approach to Buddhism at the time. His earliest encounters with Buddhism came through wide reading across the tradition, and particularly the Mahayana texts The Diamond Sutra and The Sutra of Wei Lang (Hui Neng), which at the age of 16 convinced him that he was a Buddhist and always had been. His earliest published article, aged 19, was entitled “The Unity of Buddhism” in 1946, and was printed in The Middle Way. His affiliation to the Theravada therefore always had a context of a broader commitment to the Buddhist tradition as a whole. When he came to write A Survey of Buddhism between 1954 and 1957 he was concerned
to see Buddhism in its full breadth and in its ultimate depth. [ 21 ] This approach, along with his relative autonomy, enabled Sangharakshita to develop a broad and inclusive engagement with the Dharma while he was in Kalimpong (1950–1964). His friendships, which had a bearing on this, indeed included a close connection with Lama Anagarika Govinda. In this period Sangharakshita described himself as a
triyana Buddhist — his Kalimpong base was called the Triyana Vardhana Vihara — and his approach provided a basis for his subsequent connections with lamas who were themselves followers of Tibetan triyana. While this approach may be unacceptable or incomprehensible by the standards of The FWBO Files, his endeavours to establish a triyana approach were widely applauded and won the support of figures such as the Dalai Lama [ 22 ] and Govinda, who wrote:
Probably for the first time in the history of Buddhism the Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Vajrayana have found a common centre in the Triyana Vardhana Vihara. This is an important step forward on the road towards the unification of Buddhism... a creative cooperation, in which the best of each [yana] contributes to the attainment of the highest aim and helps us to see the Buddha-Dharma in its whole depth and width. [ 23 ]
An important figure for Sangharakshita was Yogi Chen who spent twenty-five years in a single-room hermitage in Kalimpong practising and studying. The FWBO Files claims that
no independent confirmation of the relationship [between Sangharakshita and Yogi Chen] exists. (p.6) However, a book a entitled Buddhist Meditation: Systematic and Practical, [ 24 ] comprises transcriptions by Bhikkhu Khantipalo of teachings given by Yogi Chen to Sangharakshita and Khantipalo in Kalimpong in 1962. It is clear from this account that Chen respected Sangharakshita as a fellow Dharma-practitioner. [ 25 ] The FWBO Files makes various attacks on Chen’s reputation because
he was not an authorised teacher of any of the Japanese or Chinese Buddhist systems [ The FWBO Files p.6 ] in the same way that it disputes Sangharakshita’s legitimacy, and without argument or investigation. [ 26 ] Alternative views may be obtained from some of Chen’s many disciples. [ 27 ]
[ 22 ]
Message from H.H. the Dalai Lama:
I heartily congratulate the Triyana Vardhana Vihara which has completed five years. The harmonious practice of the doctrinal theories of Hinayana and Mahayana including Mantrayana Schools, and the service that it has rendered for the good of others, are to be deeply appreciated. May the pure teachings of Lord Buddha flourish forever! (Triyana Vardhana Vihara, Kalimpong Report 1957–1962, Kalimpong, 1963), p.30.
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[ 26 ]
Chen's account of his life shows that he had extensive training in Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Vajrayana. He stayed in Tibet for five years, within which period he did a one-hundred-day retreat with Gelu Rimpoche (Gelugpa); stayed with Lola Rimpoche (Nyingmapa) in his hermitage; received special teachings from Jamyang Khyentse Rimpoche, receiving permission to pass these on; spent one month with Kalu Rimpoche; and became a holder of Shenba Kagyu Lineage and qualified to pass it on, also completing a three-year solitary retreat for these latter teachings.
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