Sangharakshita Memorial Space

Voices from the Buddhist world 8 - Sulak Sivaraksa

On Fri, 9 November, 2018 - 13:06
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Here is a further appreciation of Bhante’s life and work, from Sulak Sivaraksa of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, which will appear in the next edition of the INEB magazine ‘Seeds of Peace’.

“Sangharakshita was born Dennis Lingwood in London in 1925. When he was young, there were very few English books on Buddhism. However, he felt that he had always been a Buddhist, and began reading about the religion from the encyclopaedia and other available sources. Because of a congenital heart problem, he did not enroll in formal education. Essentially, he was self-taught by reading numerous books. Conscripted in World War II, he was sent to India. Driven by the desire to discover Buddhism, he did not leave India when the war was over. Rather, he abandoned his nationality and became an “anagarika”, or a ‘homeless’ person who is fully committed to practising the Dhamma without joining the monkhood.

Along with luminaries from various yogi sects, he travelled throughout the subcontinent on foot. When he reached the Maha Bodhi Society in Kolkata the Sri Lankan monks there at first refused to ordain him as a novice, mistaking him for a beggar. Eventually, he met a monk who ordained and gave him the name “Sangharakhitta”. He eventually learned Pali and Sanskrit and got to know various lamas (Buddhist teachers) from Sikkim, India. Later a group of five Burmese monks performed the ordination ceremony for him to enter the monkhood. However, he suspected that the ordination ceremony might have been invalidated by the fact that one of the monks had committed a grave offence worthy of expulsion from the monkhood: he openly had a wife.

Subsequently, he used the Sanskrit spelling for his name, “Sangharakshita”, and opened a Buddhist center in Sikkim. Later, he accepted the invitation of the Sangha Trust to serve as abbot of a Buddhist temple in London. However, Sangharakshita soon felt that the community of Theravada monks was too restrictive and narrow-minded, making it difficult to spread the Dhamma. He disrobed and established the Western Buddhist Order, which operates in many European countries.   

His autobiography is very candid. He openly wrote about his homosexuality and sexual affairs with young men.

Also, Sangharakshita had an opportunity to meet B .R. Ambedkar, the brilliant Dalit jurist who helped to draft the Indian constitution. Ambedkar opposed the oppressive Hindu caste system and converted to Buddhism in October 1956. (He inspired hundreds of thousands of Dalits to convert to Buddhism. Today, more than 10 million Dalits in India are Buddhist.) Sangharakshita promised Ambedkar that he would support the new Buddhist Movement he had initiated.

He would also visit the Dalit Buddhist community throughout India over the years. He would send his disciples to serve the Dalit Buddhists. A well-known case is that of Dhammachari Lokamitra, an Englishman who has spent more than four decades in India and is married to a Dalit wife.  

Sangharakshita was a popular teacher and a prolific author. His writings are easy to read, yet instructive and profound. They are suitable for the ‘novice’ as well as the ‘specialist’. When I asked Dhammachari Lokamitra where he thought the Thai audience should begin reading in order to appreciate Sangharakshita, I got these three titles: 1) What is the Sangha?, The Nature of Spiritual Community, 2) The Ten Pillars of Buddhism, and 3) The History of My Going for Refuge. The Santi Asoke movement commissioned Saksit Srisundhorn to translate the first two titles. The third title was translated by Dakini for the Thai-Tibet Center under the auspices of the Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation.

On the invitation of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists Sangharakshita accepted to be its honorary member. He had donated a set of all his writings to my alma mater, the University of Wales in Lampeter, and another set to Suansivamoksa, which is part of the Dhammadrops Foundation, in Chiang Mai.

In the final years of his life, Sangharakshita lived quietly in Herefordshire, England, and passed away peacefully on 30 October 2018. Buddhism has lost one of its finest teachers and practitioners.”

Read all ‘Voices from the Buddhist world’ posts.


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