A life devoted to the Buddha

Moving against the Stream

January 14, 2005

The Venerable Sangharakshita was born Dennis Lingwood in South London in 1925. He developed an early interest in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, and went to India with the Army in 1944. He remained there to teach and write about Buddhism, and eventually became a Theravada monk. He collaborated extensively with B.R. Ambedkar in enabling the mass conversions of Hindu untouchables to Buddhism.

In 1964, Sangharakshita was invited back to England to take charge of the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara. Finding Buddhism in England at a low ebb, he tried to bring together rival factions. This must have ruffled feathers because two years later, while on a visit to India, he was summarily dismissed from his post on grounds of homosexuality.

In 1967, he founded the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (which now has more than 60 centres in five continents), and in 1968, the Western Buddhist Order.

For any historian of cultural relationships between England and India during the middle decades of the past century, Moving against the Stream contains some fascinating and painstakingly recorded insights. The author's abhorrence of the tactics of Western missionaries to secure converts in north India is tempered by his respect for Eastern Orthodoxy and the writings of Bishop Kallistos Ware. There is a fascinating account of his encounter with John Robinson, the "Honest to God" Bishop of Woolwich, with whom he found much in common, evoking comparisons between Jesus, the "man for others", and Gautama the Buddha. Following this, Sangharakshita records, "my animus against Christianity gradually disappeared".

Although a Theravadin monk who adheres strictly to the Vinaya, Sangharakshita is able to move among the main schools of Buddhist thought.

The Heart Sutra , a Mahayana text, is among his favourite scriptures, but he is careful to avoid the supposed deification of the Buddha in this major school, insisting that, on the contrary, "the Buddha was neither 'God' nor 'man'. He belongs to a third category, for which there is no equivalent in Western thought - that of Enlightened man."

Sangharakshita noted that British Buddhists seemed interested in meditation primarily for psychological reasons, which, though understandable in stressful Western societies, did not go far enough. The goal was enlightenment. However, his affection for Tibetan and Vajrayana forms of Buddhism was used against him by his detractors in London, who wanted a version of Buddhism more in line with the aspirations of the Pali Text Society, whose elderly female members initiated the gossip about homosexuality. There was never any evidence for this, other than that when his companion Terry Delamare died, he "wept every single day for six months".

Sangharakshita concludes by describing Buddhism "as a universal teaching, and as such its attitude (is) one of goodwill ( metta ) towards all living beings, irrespective of race, nationality, social position, gender, or sexual orientation."

This autobiography is a passionate account of the early growth of Buddhism in this country. It deserves a wide readership among students of religious studies and all who draw inspiration from the teaching of the Buddha.

David L. Gosling was formerly fellow in religions at Clare Hall, Cambridge.

Moving against the Stream

Author - Sangharakshita
Publisher - Windhorse
Pages - 407
Price - £17.99
ISBN - 1 899579 11 7

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