Writing about Sangharakshita, by VishvapaniOn Mon, 1 May, 2023 - 10:30
Over the last few years I’ve been rereading and writing about Sangharakshita. I started thinking I had something to say about him that would integrate criticisms with appreciation and might be helpful to others in Triratna. But the more I tried to identify what I wanted to say, the deeper I found myself travelling into his writing and his life. I realised that, even though I have been absorbing Sangharakshita’s teachings for four decades and lived with him for six years, I was wrong to think I knew Sangharakshita properly.
This writing has turned into a book, but it’s not really like other things that have been written about Sangharakshita. One way to put this is to say that I’m less interested in what he says and more interested in why he says it; I’m focusing less on his thought and more on the forces at work in his outward and inward life that shaped his thought.
I don’t know when my writing will be completed. For one thing there is the small matter of earning a living as a mindfulness teacher, living with my wife and son in Cardiff, broadcasting about Buddhism and advocating mindfulness to policymakers. In the midst of all this, writing about Sangharakshita has been a strange, powerful and definitely spiritual practice. Something similar happened when I wrote a book about the Buddha – Gautama Buddha: The Life and Teachings of the Awakened One, but this time it’s more mysterious, as if the material was shaping itself, regardless of my efforts to control it.
This is hard to express, but in one of Sangharakshita’s essays I came across a passage that does so very well. It’s a quote from the writer John Middleton Murry, which I think is a clue to how Sangharakshita himself approached Buddhist texts and teachings, and how we can approach him as readers and students who may or may not be ‘disciples’. It also vividly describes my own writing experience:
There are moments when criticism of a particular kind – the only kind I care for – utterly absorbs me. I feel I am touching a mystery. There is a wall, as it were, of dense, warm darkness before me – a darkness that is secretly alive and thrilling to the sense. This, I like to believe, is the reflection in myself of the darkness which broods over the poet’s creative mind. It forms slowly and gradually gathers while I read his work. The sense of mystery deepens and deepens, but the quality of the mystery becomes more plain. There is a moment when, as though unconsciously and out of my control, the deeper rhythm of a poet’s work, the rise and fall of the great moods that determined what he was and what he wrote, enter into me also. I feel his presence, I am obedient to it, and it seems to me as though the breathing of my spirit is at one with his.
John Middleton Murry, ‘The Nature of Poetry’, in Discoveries, 1919
This blog is an excerpt from the Tenth Anniversary book which can be viewed online or bought from Adhisthana.