|About this Recording
NA314612 - JINANANDA: Middle Way (The) - The Story of Buddhism (Unabridged)
The Middle Way
The Story of Buddhism
The life of the Buddha is the story of a man. Siddartha was a human being like you or I. He was not, of course, an ordinary human being; and in this too he was like you or I. He was as distinct and separate from us as we are from each other. The extra difference in a Buddha, in anyone who attains what the Buddha attains, is that he no longer experiences his own essential difference, his own separateness.
The sense of our separation from one another, of being trapped in our own separate universes, is the very taste of human existence, and it is what Siddartha tasted. We know this is our world because we have all looked beyond it, and some of us have even stepped out of it for a dizzying, dazzling moment. But the Buddha walked out of that separate universe and never returned. What he — and those who followed him — tasted was the taste of freedom.
Since the 1960s there has been an unprecedented explosion of interest in Buddhism in the west. It is not just that a lot of people actually practice Buddhism. There have always been plenty of those, at least up till recently in East Asia. But in the west a lot of people simply like the idea of Buddhism. Some people feel able to call themselves Buddhists without
practicing it or indeed knowing anything about it at all. They have just absorbed something of the message of Buddhism from looking at a simple image of a meditating Buddha. It represents an ideal that they respond to intuitively. Others actually practice Buddhism without really liking the idea of calling themselves Buddhists. There is also a flourishing academic industry centered on Buddhism, which has produced by far the richest and most
profound body of religious literature in the world.
The special place that Buddhism holds within world religions is that it is essentially non-threatening. This is firstly because according to Buddhism the use of force, even when it is just manipulation, is a reflection of a
mistaken view of the way things are and therefore needs to be avoided. Secondly it is because the Buddhist view is never one that separates the Buddhist from others. Again, this is regarded as simply a reflection of the nature of things.
Buddhism is one of the most influential belief systems of today, and also one of the oldest. What makes it at once so mysterious and so approachable is that it is not fixed in any specific formulation. It is not in its essence really a belief system as such at all. This gives it a protean ability to explain itself from within the assumptions of any culture within which it finds itself. The reason it is not tied to any external forms of expression whatsoever, not even to a form of belief system, is what it is all about.
When one examines Buddhism one sees first of all smiling monks in
yellow or maroon robes; one also sees images of unearthly refinement and beauty, of wild sexual abandon, and of nightmare horror. One perhaps smells incense and hears deep-throated chanting. One may even find oneself thinking profound philosophical thoughts. One may go on adding elements of these kinds as much as one likes — one may think of meditation or karma — but though all these things may be of concern to Buddhists, they do not describe it at all.
It is significant that there is no Buddhist creed of any kind. Some people may say Buddhism is basically about impermanence or the fact that actions have consequences or that it is about letting go, or the interpenetration of all things. But no agreement can be reached, because Buddhism is specifically about seeing through the notion of a consensus world out there. And as soon as someone agrees with that statement then the point has been missed. Buddhism is not actually about anything at all. It is always a direct pointing to the true nature of things, now.
To those who asked where do we come from, the Buddha would give the example of a man with an arrow in his eye. ‘Would that man’, the Buddha replied, say ‘“Before you take the arrow out of my eye, could you tell me who made it?”’
There are three aspects of the Buddhist faith, three most precious things that the Buddhist places at the center of their life. These are known as the three Jewels or Refuges: the Buddha jewel, representing the ideal of Awakening or Enlightenment to which all Buddhists aspire; the Dharma jewel, which represents the Buddhist teachings by which that ideal is realized in one’s individual life; and the Sangha Jewel, standing for the community of Buddhists, through which those teachings are communicated and practiced.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Buddhism is establishing itself so strongly in the west at a period when science and technology are in firm control of the way the world works.
Notes by Jinananda
The account of the Buddhist faith in these tapes has been put together from many sources. Translations from original texts have been simplified and often abbreviated. If the text of these tapes have any virtue, it comes from those sources, and from my teacher, the Venerable Sangharakshita; its faults are all my own.
About the Author
Jinananda, also known as Duncan Steen, was born in 1952 in Bedford and
brought up in Mauritius, Scotland and Bedford, receiving an education at
Bedford School. He has worked as an antiquarian bookseller, and a gardener.
He was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1986, and since 1990 has worked as an editor for his teacher, the Venerable Sangharakshita. He
teaches meditation and Buddhism at the West London Buddhist Centre.
About the Readers
David Timson has worked as an actor for nearly thirty years in theater (Wild Honey, Hamlet, The Man of Mode, The Seagull), television (Nelson’s Column, Swallows and Amazons) and film (The Russia House), but most consistently for BBC Radio. He won the BBC Student Prize in 1971 and has since made over 1,000 broadcasts, ranging from the title role in Nicholas Nickleby to that past institution Listen With Mother. He has frequently read serials and short stories for Woman’s Hour and Radio 4 and is a popular reader on Naxos AudioBooks. Timson is the author of Naxos AudioBooks’ audio-original, The History of Theatre.
Anton Lesser has played many of the principal Shakespearean roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Petruchio, Romeo and Richard III. His other theater credits include Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, Wild Oats and Art. Appearances in major television drama productions include The Cherry Orchard, The Mill on the Floss and The Politician’s Wife.
As poet, playwright and actor, Heathcote Williams has made a significant contribution to many fields. He is best known for his extended poems on environmental subjects, Whale Nation (1988); Falling for a Dolphin (1988); Sacred Elephant (1989) and Autogeddon (1991). But his plays have also won acclaim, notably AC/DC produced at London’s Royal Court, and Hancock’s Last Half Hour. As an actor he has been equally versatile — among his most memorable roles was Prospero in Derek Jarman’s film of The Tempest.
Close the window