III Tibetan Buddhism
a | Tantric Initiations
Passing on initiations
In the tantric tradition, it is a universally recognised fact that successful practice depends on receipt of an initiation from a qualified and authorised donor. Whether Sangharakshita has the authority or ability to give tantric initiations is therefore an issue of utmost importance... Not only are there strict rules governing the authority to bestow initiations but it is unthinkable that anyone would give them without the express authority of their teacher... One can be sure, that if he had received such authority, Sangharakshita would proclaim the fact. So we can assume that he does not have the authority to give initiations... Sangharakshita’s claim to teach Vajrayana (tantric) Buddhism is bogus. [ The FWBO Files, 7 ]
As has been said, Sangharakshita does not claim to teach Vajrayana Buddhism, [ 44 ] simply to derive inspiration and learn from it. He certainly does not identify himself with a single school, nor does he claim to have fulfilled the syllabus of any of these traditions, nor to represent them in any sense. [ 45 ] He presents himself as a Buddhist who goes for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who has learnt from these traditions and who draws inspiration from them in his own task of formulating an approach to Buddhism that is relevant to the modern world. [ 46 ]
Secondly, Sangharakshita had the approval of his teachers in his general approach to practice. It should be remembered, firstly, that he came to them as a Theravadin Bhikkhu, albeit with a long-standing involvement with Mahayana teachings, and that they accepted him as such. And the approach of these men to Tibetan tradition appears to have been more inclusive, and less formalistic than that of The FWBO Files. Several of these Lamas were leading members of the Rime movement, which sought to overcome sectarianism, and to bring the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism into greater harmony. Sangharakshita’s approach may be seen as an extension of Rime to the Buddhist tradition as a whole. Dhardo Rimpoche commented in 1988:
From the beginning I encouraged Sangharakshita to go back to the West to spread the Dharma. I never gave Sangharakshita just the teaching of Gelugpa. Whatever its outward form, the Dharma is one. The Tantra is the same. The Mahayana is the same. [ 47 ]
Sangharakshita says that he consulted his teachers about his proposed move back to Britain and his decision to start a new Buddhist movement, and received their blessing for this. Dhardo Rimpoche continued to take great interest in Sangharakshita’s work, and initiated a number of Order members into various practices.
Thirdly, Sangharakshita has been given permission to initiate, but such matters are private between guru and chela and are not the subject of public discussion.
The FWBO is not a school of Vajrayana, nor has it ever claimed this status, and members of the Western Buddhist Order are not tantric practitioners. Sangharakshita and the FWBO respect the integrity of the tantra as a system and claim no status within its terms. The meditation practices given to members of the Western Buddhist Order may well derive from tantra, but they are not conceived as tantric practices. They are seen as expressions of going for Refuge to the Three Jewels in relation to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The “initiation” at the ordination ceremony of the WBO is not seen as a tantric initiation, [ 48 ] nor does it resemble tantric initiation or empowerment. [ 49 ]
[ 45 ]
The FWBO Files quotes Maurice Walshe as alleging that Sangharakshita
virtually claimed to be the Dalai Lama’s representative in Britain. No evidence is offered for this
virtual claim, and Sangharakshita says he has never said any such thing. The FWBO Files also suggests that the FWBO frequently speaks of a friendship between Sangharakshita and the Dalai Lama to gain legitimacy. However, there are no such claims in any FWBO literature or any other evidence for such a policy. Sangharakshita and the Dalai Lama met on several occasions in India, but have not met since 1966.
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[ 46 ]
For a summary of Sangharakshita’s approach to Vajrayana see Subhuti, Sangharakshita — a New Voice in the Buddhist Tradition (Windhorse Publications, 1994), Ch.2 “The Unity of Buddhism”.
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[ 49 ]
For more on the FWBO ’s approach to these practices, and to the Mahayana Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, see Vessantara, Meeting the Buddhas, (Windhorse Publications, 1993); Kulananda, “Magic and Realism”, in Dharma Life 7, Spring 1998.
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