Carolyn Scott talks to Maurice Walshe
It has been said that the Buddha's most eloquent sermon was a flower held up in silence, and it is this do-ityourself aspect of Buddhism that attracts many of its followers.
Maurice Walshe, who is Deputy Director of the Institute of Germanic Studies in London, became a Buddhist 20 years ago. and is now a vicepresident of the Buddhist Society.
"Buddhism seemed to be something to do rather than to believe." he says. while at the same time denying that it is possible to be a Buddhist without any faith at all. "It throws you back on your own resources, which is frightening but very attractive," He has contempt both for those who dismiss the Buddha as a schizophrenic drop-out, and those who adopt the superficialities of Buddhism without any of the hard graft.
He quotes an English Buddhist monk: "When you start treading the Buddhist path you have a big head and two fiat feet. At the end of the path, you have just have two flat Feet."
What lies at the end of the path remains a mystery. The Buddha himself called metaphysical speculation fit Only for "the jungle, the desert, the puppet show, conducive neither to wisdom nor insight."
Enlightenment has been called the moment when a man breaks free from the wheel of desire: Nirvana the moment when self is snuffed out.
Theoretically, Nirvana like the Kingdom of God, can be achieved here and now, and a man can become a Buddha.
But it is like Christ on the mountainside telling people to be perfect as God is perfect. The majority aspire to nothing more heroic than travelling hopefully.
"I haven't glimpsed enlightenment yet," says Maurice Walshe. "I've had glimpses of something pointing in that direction: glimpses into the illusion of self. And I believe that once this can be clearly seen, the whole world looks different."
A typically enigmatic Buddhist formula is: "neither the same nor different". Someone reborn is neither the same nor different from the one who existed previously. The great world faiths are neither the same nor different: "Like a
river, it is the same river all the time, and yet different water," The soul is an ever-changing process, a stream of consciousness, neither the same nor different.
That which is seen by many outside as an invasion is interpreted by those inside as a proper respect for the infinite. The "The truth is inexpressible," says Maurice Walshe. "It cannot be understood until it is attained."
The basic structure of Buddhism is contained in the Four Noble Truths: Suffering, the cause of suffering, which is craving and desire; the cure of suffering, which is Nirvana, expressed positively in the overcoming of desire: and the truth that Nirvana can be reached by following the eight-fold path of wisdom, morality and meditation.
Suffering, whether it is
physical or mental — and the West, with its high degree of dissatisfaction, is seen by the Buddhist as suffering equally with the Third World — is rationalised as a wrong mode of awareness. The apparent Buddhist preoccupation with it is dismissed as no more than the first step along the path toward enlightenment.
"If you don't see the relation between craving and suffering," says Mr. Walshe, "then from a Buddhist point of view you have no serious degree of right understanding."
Maurice Walshe came to Buddhism from agnosticism. He had an orthodox public school upbringing hut bypassed Christianity as too dogmatic and too emotional. "I was probably rather afraid of the emotional approach. Buddhism appealed more to my mind than to my emotions." Mindfulness is perhaps the most valuable practice he has learned. It is described as the practice of becoming increasingly aware of, oneself — one's motives, reactions and thoughts — and of gaining greater control over oneself. He admits it is introspective, but also calls it a way of becoming more aware of other people.
"The more one understands about oneself, the more one understands other people. What little 1 know of psychology," he says, "1 have learned not from reading books but from what I have found out about myself. The things I see ticking in me — sometimes rather nasty things — I see ticking in other people."
He has visited Japan and Thailand several times. and finds the Buddhist tenets — especially those of the more orthodox Northern school of Theravada Buddhism — relatively easy to accept.
"Our lives are changing at a frightening rate. Modern society and modern science make us very aware of impermanence. If you know the most elementary thing about physics, you can
see that everything is changing all the time and even solid matter isn't solid matter at all.
"This is very much in line with the Buddhist idea. Everything you normally experience is transient, but your faith gives you the belief that behind all this transience is that which is permanent and infinitely worthwhile.
"To me, the most precious thing in the Buddhist faith is that there is a way out. There is a salvation: a wonderful goal for which one can strive, and hope eventually to attain."
Christ said: "I am the way". The Buddha, after his enlightenment, returned to the world to teach the Way He did no more than point the path, leaving the interpretation of what he taught to those who followed him."He who would wait on me," he said, "let him wait on the sick." The Dharma, or teaching, he called a raft to get from one bank toahe other and then to be abandoned.
Maurice Walshe says: "For a lot of people there is something unsatisfying about Buddhism, It tends to refuse to answer questions. But the implication is that you can find out for yourself. Eventually."
NEXT Week: A Hindu talks about his faith.