III Tibetan Buddhism
b | The Approach to Texts
The necessity of studying the very terse root texts of classical Mahayana, such as Shantideva’s Bodhisattvacharyavatara with the aid of a traditional commentary, as insisted on by the four Tibetan schools, is completely unknown. [ The FWBO Files, 8 ]
As a western Buddhist movement the FWBO does not follow the approach to studying Dharma texts that was developed by Indian or Tibetan scholasticism. Westerners naturally bring a different sensibility to bear on such texts, and have different resources open to them. Sangharakshita emphasises the need to draw on a range of commentarial material in study, including the findings of modern scholarship, the Buddhist commentarial tradition, and even comparative literature. [ 50 ] Above all he emphasises the need to approach texts in the context of Dharma practice.
Dharma study is taken seriously within the FWBO . One retreat centre — Vajrakuta, in North Wales — is devoted solely to this purpose, and many texts are studied across the movement. [ 51 ] In common with most Buddhists in the West we would regard the masterpieces of Buddhist canonical literature as the common property of humanity, and rightful subjects of study and reflection for all, irrespective of the scholastic conventions of Tibet.
The FWBO Files asserts that
Sangharakshita would have great difficulty in finding any bona fide, knowledgeable Buddhists who would concur with his interpretations of the meaning of Buddhism. The facts of the matter, however, indicate just the opposite. Indeed, there are a number of respected and well-known Buddhist scholars within the Western Buddhist Order itself. [ 52 ]
[ 50 ]
The FWBO Files disparages Sangharakshita’s recommendations of various contemporary books. In the interests of cultural awareness and intellectual enquiry Sangharakshita has always encouraged his disciples to read and study Western literature and philosophy, and as in any thinking community, he sometimes recommends books he has found valuable. It should also be noted that the range of books he recommends is far broader than that of those cited in The FWBO Files.
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[ 51 ]
These include many key texts from the Pali Sutta Pitaka; several of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras; The White Lotus Sutra; The Sutra of Golden Light; The Vimalakirti Nirdesa; The Sutra of Hui Neng; The Songs and The Life of Milarepa; the Bodhicharyavatara; The Precious Garland; The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, and many more. The Bodhicaryavatara, for example, might typically be studied with the aid of Geshe Kelsang’s commentary from the Tibetan and Prajnakara’s commentary from the Sanskrit, Sangharakshita’s own seminar on the text, and reference to contemporary scholarship.
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[ 52 ]
These include Prof. Alan Sponberg (Dh. Saramati), specialist in the transmission of Buddhism from India to China who taught for over a decade at Princeton and Stanford before taking his current position at the University of Montana; Dr. Michael McGee (Dh. Vipassi), Lecturer in Philosophy at Liverpool University and co-editor of the forthcoming academic journal Contemporary Buddhism; Dr. Robert Morrison (Dh. Sagaramati) author of Buddhism and Nietzsche (Oxford University Press), now teaching at the Vajrakuta Buddhist Study Centre; Andrew Skilton (Dh. Sthiramati), author of A Concise History of Buddhism, co-translator of the Oxford Classics Bodhicaryavatara, now teaching at the University of Cardiff; and Dr. Anthony Tribe (Dh. Anandajyoti), a recent Oxford University D.Phil. in Buddhist Studies currently holding a visiting lectureship at the University of Montana. Aside from these ordained members of the WBO , there are also a number of academically active mitras in the FWBO including Prof. Richard Hayes, a leading scholar of Sanskrit Buddhism at McGill University.
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