III Tibetan Buddhism
a | Tantric Initiations
Sangharakshita’s attitude to initiations
The FWBO Files concedes that Sangharakshita did receive a number of initiations, but argues that these are merely
a few minor initiations bestowed by high lamas who routinely bestow such initiations on hundreds, indeed thousands of people [ The FWBO Files, 8 ]. Whatever the exact status of these initiations within their respective systems of tantric practice, the issue is really one of interpretation — how one sees the significance of these initiations.
Sangharakshita holds that
there are no higher teachings, only deeper realisations. The implication is that the significance of a practice is not the formal status it holds in a system, but the success with which it has been practised, and the depth of the practitioner’s realisation. [ 41 ] This is in contrast to the view expressed in The FWBO Files which says, for example, that
the average Tibetan would probably feel as excited about the possibility of receiving the Bodhisattva ordination as the average Westerner would feel about the possibility of receiving a new National Insurance number. [ The FWBO Files, 8 ] [ 42 ]
While Sangharakshita plainly is experienced in aspects of Vajrayana, his authority to draw inspiration from the Tibetan tradition in his teaching, and to pass on some of its insights and practices, is based not on the number of initiations he received, or their formal status, but on the sincerity and effectiveness of his practice, the clarity of his understanding, and the depth of his realisation. In other words it is based on the depth and extent of his going for Refuge to the Three Jewels. [ 43 ]
[ 41 ]
Though planted by the guru in the heart-soil of the disciple, it is the latter’s duty to tend and water [a practice] by constant practice of the appropriate sadhana until, having grown into a mature tree, it bears the fruit of siddhi or spiritual success. Sangharakshita, “Ordination and Initiation in the Three Yanas”, Middle Way, November 1959.
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[ 42 ]
The average Tibetan does not take the 64 precepts of Bodhisattva Samvara Sila on numerous occasions — they recite a verse before initiations which stands in place of more elaborate Bodhisattva vows. Sangharakshita took the 64 precepts in a spirit of great seriousness. Many Tibetan Lamas likewise regard them as serious. For instance Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and Dudjom Rimpoche have both written books on the subject.
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[ 43 ]
On the connected issue of lineage Sangharakshita comments:
I have discouraged [emphasis on] this because it seems to lead to a sort of spiritual snobbery. So I don’t like to speak in terms of lineage or lineage holder; though I suppose, if I wanted to, I could quite legitimately say that I was a lineage holder in that sense. But I would rather not mention that or stress that, for the reasons I have mentioned. I think it is so, in a way, childish. In Sangharakshita in Seminar, Unedited Transcripts — Tuscany 1985 Questions & Answers, available from Free Buddhist Audio
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