Is Living Wisely a book for those new to Buddhism or for advanced practitioners?
The book is for all serious students of Buddhist thought, especially those interested in Mahayana philosophy.
You write that you do not need to be old to be wise. Where does wisdom come from if not from life experience?
The wisdom that comes from life experience is worldly wisdom. Prajnaparamita or transcendental wisdom is quite another thing. Nargarjuna is mainly concerned with this second kind of wisdom.
You stress that the development of wisdom is not an easy task and even describe the truth of things as frightening. Why would you encourage people to set out on a path that is so difficult and scary?
I encourage them because in the long run it is well worth the effort.
Must we be wise in order to be truly free and at peace?
Yes, wise in the sense of having at least a glimpse of transcendental wisdom.
You say that in order to approach wisdom we need to develop a less literal and more reflective intelligence. What do you mean by a less literal and more reflective intelligence?
Please see Ratnaguna’s The Art of Reflection, which is a comprehensive treatment of this important topic.
If the Buddha’s teachings do indeed ‘come from another dimension’, how can we channel the Buddha’s wisdom into our ordinary, everyday lives?
We can do so by first transforming that life by the practice of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path.
Nagarjuna lived in the second or third century AD. Does living ethically in the 2nd century mean the same thing as living ethically in the 21st century or are there new ethical dilemmas facing humanity today?
The basic principles of ethics remain the same throughout the centuries. In modern times, however, life is much more complicated than it was in Nargarjuna’s time, so that the application of those principles becomes more difficult.
What is it that makes an action either ethical or unethical?
An action is ethical if it is the expression of a skilful mental state, unethical if it is the expression of an unskilful mental state. This does not mean that ‘good intentions’ are enough.
When many people think of Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness probably come to mind rather than ethics. Do you think that Buddhism has a strong and distinctive approach to ethical issues which should be emphasized in presentations of Buddhism in general?
Indeed Buddhism does have such an emphasis. The Buddhist path consists, basically, of ethics, meditation, and wisdom. Without an ethical basis meditation has no foundation and without meditation wisdom has no foundation.
Do ethics belong to the realm of the individual, or is there a way in which ethical issues are a collective matter? In other words, what is the Sangha’s role in living ethically?
The Sangha is a community of spiritual friends. Its members help one another to live up to their common ethical and spiritual standards.
Finally, is there one particular message from the Precious Garland that you think is most relevant or important?
The message of the Precious Garland is that wisdom and ethics, in the Buddhist sense of these terms, should be an integral part of the life of every human being.
In a world of increasingly confused ethics, Living Ethically looks back over the centuries for guidance from Nagarjuna, one of the greatest teachers of the Mahayana tradition.
Drawing on the themes of Nagarjuna’s famous scripture, Precious Garland of Advice for a King, this book explores the relationship between an ethical lifestyle and the development of wisdom. Covering both personal and collective ethics, Sangharakshita considers such enduring themes as pride, power and business, as well as friendship, love and generosity.