Below are three
quotes illustrating the FWBO's idea of 'spiritual hierarchy' - the idea
that some people have 'progressed further on the Path', and form 'a spiritual
hierarchy based on individual attainment of higher levels of consciousness'.
Such people, according to the FWBO, should be respected as spiritual teachers
'Within both the
positive group and the spiritual community people will be at many different
levels and stages of experience and commitment. Each should feel a natural
respect for and gratitude to those who, in any way, have progressed
further on the Path and who are, therefore, teachers and guides. For
those at much the same level, goodwill and a bracing friendship will
flower. And for those less developed helpful guidance will be given.
A "spiritual hierarchy" can be discerned, a hierarchy
that is not necessarily formalised and which exists by virtue of the
natural feelings of its members. …
' The acceptance
of spiritual hierarchy ensures that those of greatest experience and
understanding are able to guide and inspire.'
Subhuti, Buddhism for Today, p 131, 133. ISBN 0-904766-34-9
'… lost in our own
ignorance, we formulate views based upon shallow evidence and our own
desires. Views surround us on all sides, thrust at us by the entire
culture in which we grow up and live. It is almost impossible not to
be influenced unless we are exceptionally strong-minded and awake. So
hemmed in are we by opinion that we cannot discriminate between what
is wholesome and what is harmful. Wrong views, in the Buddhist sense,
flourish like mental viruses in the weak tissue of our immature minds.
They cover a vast range of attitudes from the most trivial to the most
'To give but two
examples: many people hold an unthinking quasi-egalitarian view and
many are materialist in their outlook. The quasi-egalitarian rejects
not only social distinction based upon birth but also the very idea
that some people are more developed than others. This he considers "elitist"
or "undemocratic". The attitude behind this view might be
expressed, "I am as good as anyone else and no one is better than
me." Such people have great difficulty learning anything of importance
from others and they certainly consider that looking up to them is a
sign of weakness. Muddled egalitarianism of this type is very widespread
in the West and gives rise to an outlook which is without any vertical
dimension. All is flat and mediocre and real excellence is denied. Social
hierarchy based on privilege of birth rather than individual merit must
be clearly distinguished from a spiritual hierarchy based on
individual attainment of higher levels of consciousness.
'Unless one acknowledges
such a spiritual hierarchy then one cannot oneself develop through its
various levels. One will feel no respect for those who have gone further
than oneself and will be unable to learn from them. This hierarchy does
not need to be formalized into grades and ranks (one's own experience
will teach one who to respect if one is sincere) but one's perspective
must include that vertical dimension if one is to grow.'
The Buddhist Vision, p 85 - 86. ISBN 0 7126 1084 7
'There seems to be a confusion of two different conceptions of hierarchy
or equality on a psychological level. People are determined to show
that they're equal to everybody else, and so they can't recognize any
hierarchy of spiritual attainment or even intellectual attainment.'
'Yes. For instance, when we first had the "Friends" this idea
of spiritual hierarchy some people just couldn't swallow. I know
that one person in particular had great difficulty with it for several
years: he just couldn't accept it. He did accept it in the end, though.
I remember on one occasion there was a rather strong discussion and
this person said, "Well, it isn't very democratic," and I
said very strongly, "There's no democracy in the Western Buddhist
order!" And that is about it. It's a hierarchy, but a spiritual
one, and sometimes even the spiritual hierarchy isn't clear.
'It's not a question
of grading everybody, with someone at the bottom and someone at the
top. It's not nearly as simple as that. In certain situations one person
may appear as the "superior", for want of a better word, while
in other situations that person may not be "superior". Things
may fluctuate like that quite a bit, but there might be a general, overall
recognition that certain people, though they might have glaring weaknesses
too, were more experienced and, perhaps one could say, more evolved
than the others. This would be something that was broadly understood
or felt, but not a thing that could be insisted upon and embodied in
ranks and little badges and things like that.
'It is the broad
feeling that there is in someone, or in certain people, something higher
and better than yourself to which you can look up - not the wanting
to equalize everything and have everything on the same level. In a way,
in another sense, you're on the same level, but that's not the whole
story. It's a good, positive thing to be able to look up to someone:
If you can't, you're in a pretty difficult position. You're in a sad
state - just unlucky, like a child that hasn't even got a mother and
father to look up to. A child needs that, when it's a child. But this
sort of assertion, that you're just as good as anybody else in the egalitarian
sense, is really sick.'
From 'The Endlessly
Fascinating Cry', a seminar on Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara or 'Entry
into the Life of Enlightenment', transcribed by Devamitra and edited
by Sangharakshita, page 74 - 75. Pub. FWBO 1977