Born Dennis Lingwood in London in 1925, Sangharakshita was stationed in Sri Lanka and India during World War II. He remained in India after the war, and was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1949. Returning to England in 1964, he founded the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) three years later. Today nearly six hundred men and women have been ordained in the Order. While most of its activities are based in Britain and among the ex-untouchable communities in India, there are a half-dozen centers in the United States as well. This interview was conducted by Stephen Batchelor, a contributing editor to Tricycle, at Sangharahshita’s apartment in Bethnal Green, London, in April 1995.
Tricycle: In 1949 in Kushinara, India, you became one of the first Westerners to have been ordained as a Buddhist monk. What led you to take this highly unusual step?
Sangharakshita: At the time it didn’t seem unusual at all. I was quite unconscious of being one of the first Western Buddhists to take monastic vows. It seemed the natural culmination of a whole series of developments that went back to my realization a few years earlier that l was a Buddhist and always had been one. I simply thought that to devote oneself to Buddhism meant becoming a monk, being a full-time Buddhist with no other real interests. But I also realized that it would be a very demanding life, and I wasn’t sure whether l was capable of it. So I wanted to test myself first.
Tricycle: How did you do that?
Sangharakshita: In 1947 I took up the life of an anagarika, which I would describe as a “freelance wandering Buddhist monk,” without formal ordination. For two years I led that wandering life. I was trying to live as I thought a Buddhist monk should, with an absolute minimum of possessions. Everything I owned was contained in a small cloth bag: one or two robes, a couple of books, and a brass pot. And I was meditating, sometimes in ashrams, sometimes in caves, studying the dharma, reading whatever Buddhist books came my way. Then l had a visionary experience, which convinced me that the time had come for me to seek ordination. Rightly or wrongly, I wanted to put an official stamp on my status as someone totally committed to the pursuit of the Buddhist path.
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