The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The Needs of the Mitra System
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If someone wishes to become a Mitra in the FWBO they are expected to fulfil the four criteria upon which acceptance is based: they must have a daily meditation practice, have regular contact with Order members, be quite certain that they wish to pursue their Buddhist practice exclusively within our movement and be willing to help out with the running of the FWBO.
However, it sometimes happens that someone may fulfil all these criteria and yet we do not accept them as Mitras.
This is not because we wish to exclude them — as a matter of principle no one is ever rejected — but just as there are certain conditions which the prospective Mitra is required to fulfil, similarly Order members must be able to give the Mitras the kalyana mitrata (spiritual friendship) they need.
The Order members at an FWBO Centre should be able to befriend those they accept as Mitras and help them to deepen their understanding of the Dharma by organising and conducting groups which focus on a three year course of study. Unfortunately, not all our Centres are able to provide these basic needs.
If, as happened in one city, you have nine or ten people who are already struggling to meet the needs of sixty Mitras, it is difficult to know what to do about the two hundred or so people who have requested to become Mitras.
There are limits to the human resources at our disposal and this leads to problems. If we are not in a position to accept people then they may become very frustrated, but if we do accept them and are unable to meet their needs, the same thing is just as likely to happen.
The reasons for this have been spelt out on many occasions and I am not going to argue the case in the present context, but it is important to bear in mind the fact that we encourage men to look to men for kalyana mitrata and women to look to women and that this has considerable ramifications.
This may mean that women can be accepted as Mitras, even though men are not, and vice versa.
Firstly let me just make it clear that, although there is a limit to what I can do, wherever there is a centre without a Mitra convenor — be it man or woman — I do whatever I can to help change that.
I would like to see everyone who wants to become a Mitra able to do so.
If, as sometimes happens, there is no Dharmacharini at a particular Centre, the men running it are faced with the problem of what to do about women who are wanting to further their involvement and who would possibly like to become Mitras.
The natural response is for the men to want to do whatever they can for them, but unfortunately there are limits imposed upon that — not by the Mitra system, but by the nature of relationships between men and women.
By the time someone has reached the point where he is beginning to take the spiritual life really seriously, what he most needs from others is kalyana mitrata — especially from others of the same sex.
Human relationships are fraught with difficulties, but those between men and women can be particularly so.
The scope for unconscious psychological projection from both sides is unbounded and affects us far more deeply than many of us are prepared to consider — let alone admit — especially if in mid-life we feel we have reached a certain degree of maturity.
For instance, there have been several cases of men assuming responsibility for women which have led to romantic entanglements that have created strong tensions at the Centres concerned — even to the point that some women, out of jealousy, have felt unable to be in the same room together.
Consequently, he became seriously distracted from his broader responsibilities.
There are other examples I could quote, but perhaps these are sufficient to make the point.
But there are other considerations. Given that men should look to men for kalyana mitrata and women look to women, the men at a Centre should be focusing their attentions on the men who are getting involved.
This does not mean that they should be unfriendly to the women, but they need to recognise that beyond a certain point there is very little that they can do to help them and that women need other women.
Not only that, it would be in a sense unfair to the men Order members if they were expected to undertake the responsibility of kalyana mitrata for both sexes (assuming they were capable of doing so, which in all likelihood they would not be).
Nonetheless, this is sometimes what men do.
However, it leads to other problems. There comes a point where a man finds himself unable to give the women what they need — simply because he is a man and not a woman.
On two recent occasions this has led to frustration and resentment, towards the men concerned, by the women they were trying to help. Their efforts really did not get very far and simply delayed facing the problem.
On a superficial level, it is often much easier for men to get on with women than with each other.
Women generally seem to be far more appreciative than men and are more ready to express that.
In such circumstances a man may fall victim to the vicars tea party syndrome, finding himself at the centre of a circle of admiring women in awe of his intellectual brilliance, which may make him feel good, but which is actually very bad for him.
Men are more difficult to interest and involve, as they tend to be more aggressive, challenging and competitive, and therefore interaction with them offers fewer immediate rewards.
It is very easy for men Order members to focus more on the women in a way that ultimately does not really benefit anyone very much and which is positively harmful to themselves.
They cannot really help the women beyond a certain point and the men who come along to the Centre do not get what they need and will probably not stay with us.
If men get distracted in this way it is not only bad for them, it is not ultimately good for the women.
It is in the interests of both parties that they should because, if this is undertaken by men, it will prolong the dependence.
Connected with this is a broader issue. If women generally rely upon men to take responsibilities which are essentially their own, we create a culture in which the women collectively remain dependent upon the men collectively.
Again, this is not in the interests of either.
However, there is another dimension to this issue.
We have some Centres where there have been several Dharmacharinis, none of whom have been able to become the Mitra Convenor for women at their Centre.
Ratnavandana, as the regional Mitra Convenor for women in the UK, has tried very hard, with some success, to find and encourage suitable Dharmacharinis to become Mitra Convenors wherever they might be needed in Britain.
It is a problem which keeps recurring, and one which she and I keep continually under review, but unfortunately, because there are still fewer women than men Order members with the requisite experience and qualities, it may take quite some time before we catch up with the backlog.