The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
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Triratna Buddhist Community
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The Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO)) is an international fellowship of Buddhists, and others who aspire to its path of mindfulness, under the leadership of the Triratna Buddhist Order (formerly the Western Buddhist Order).
Practices and activities
(a) "The mindfulness of breathing" (anapanasati), in which practitioners focus on the rise and fall of the breath; and (b) "The metta bhavana", which approximately translates from the original Pali as "the cultivation of lovingkindness".
The first two according to his system ('integration' and 'positive emotion', can be correlated to the traditional category of "calming" "samatha" practices, and the last two (spiritual death and spiritual rebirth) can be correlated to "insight" or "vipassana" practices.
These phases are:
- 2.Positive emotion. The second aspect of samatha is developing positivity – an other-regarding, life-affirming ::attitude. The Brahmavihara meditations, especially the 'metta bhavana' or cultivation of loving kindness meditations, are ::the key practices intended to foster the development of positive emotion.
- 3.Spiritual death. The next stage is to develop insight into what is seen to be the emptiness of the self and reality. ::Meditations at this stage include considering the elements of which self and world are thought to be composed; contemplating ::impermance (particularly of the body); contemplating suffering; and contemplating sunyata.
- .4Spiritual rebirth. The WBO teaches that, with the development of insight and the death of the limited ego-self, a ::person is spiritually reborn. Practices which involve the visualization of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are among the main ::practices in this phase. At ordination, each dharmachari(ni) is given an advanced visualisation meditation on a particular ::figure.
Recently, community activities have begun to include outdoor festivals, online meditation courses, arts festivals, poetry and writing workshops, tai chi, karate, and pilgrimages to Buddhist holy sites in India. For many years, the community charity Karuna Trust (UK) has raised money for aid projects in India.
The first of these was formed after a retreat where some participants wanted to continue retreat-style living.
Since it was felt that the most stable communities tended to be single sex, this has become the paradigm for communities. Support from fellow practitioners in a community is seen to be effective in helping members make spiritual progress.
The largest TBC centre in the UK is the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green, East London, which offers drop-in lunchtime meditation sessions each weekday, open to beginners, as well as courses and classes through the week.
The centre's courses for depression, based on the mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy methodology of Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, featured in the Financial Times in 2008.
Defining the movement
- 3.A unified Order. Unlike some sangha, the community does not propagate a monastic lineage. Sangharakshita devised a ::non-monastic ordination system, whilst also allowing the undertaking of the "anagarika" precept which enjoins celibacy. ::Identical ordination is open to both sexes. While the movement regards single-sex activities as important to spiritual ::growth, men and women are recognised as being equally able to practice and develop spiritually.
- 4.An emphasis on spiritual friendship. There is a strong emphasis on the sangha, and spiritual friendship based on ::shared values. The community teaches that spending time with friends who share ideals, and engaging in ritual practice with ::them, supports ethical living and the arising of the bodhicitta.
- 6.Importance of art. Engagement in, and an appreciation of, the arts are considered to be a valuable aspect of ::spiritual practice. The community teaches that a refinement of one's artistic tastes can help refine emotional sensitivity ::and provide a channel for the expression of right living, and spiritual growth. More broadly, the movement seeks ways to ::re-express Buddhism by making connections with sympathetic elements in the surrounding culture, regarding the arts as such ::an aspect of western culture.
"The FWBO's attitude to spreading the Dharma is one of heartfelt urgency," wrote Stephen Batchelor, a prominent British Buddhist author, in a book published in 1994. "For the FWBO, Western Society as such needs to be subject to the unflinching scrutiny of Buddhist values."
The Triratna Buddhist Order is the focal-point of the community, and is a network of friendships between individuals who have made personal commitments to the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha, in communion with others.
A small number of members, however, take vows of celibacy and adopt a simpler lifestyle. Contrary to the traditional Buddhist structure of separating lay and monastic members, the order combines monastic and lay lifestyles under one ordination, a practice not dissimilar to that which evolved in some Japanese schools of Buddhism.
The karma sections of the fundamental meditation texts of all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism also list these acts as basic guidelines for lay or ordained practitioners intent on observing the law of cause and effect.
In mid-2008, there were around 1,500 members of the order, in more than 20 countries.
The wider community
"Mitra" is Sanskrit for "friend", which in this case denotes a person who considers themselves Buddhist, who makes an effort to live in accordance with the five ethical precepts, and who feels that this spiritual community is the appropriate one for them.
Those who wish to join the order must request this in writing. It can then sometimes take several years to prepare for ordination. This is an informal process, the focus of which is to deepen one's commitment.
He would lead the organisation until his formal retirement in 1995, and would continue to exert a decisive influence on its thinking and practices thereafter.
In 2003, the public preceptors, responding to feedback, decided to move away from a formal relationship to the order and movement, and to concentrate on the ordination of new order members, teaching and dharma practice.
In the spring of 2010, the movement's name was changed from Friends of the Western Buddhist Order to Triratna Buddhist Community (which approximates in English to the name used in India - Triratna Bauddha Mahasangha).
Controversies and criticism
Although Sangharakshita studied under, and in some cases received initiations from, eminent Buddhist teachers during his two decades in India, including Jagdish Kashyap, Dhardo Rinpoche, HH Dudjom Rinpoche, HH Dilgo Khyentse, and Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, some strands of Buddhism would find that he never worked closely enough with any of these to be considered their "dharma-heir".
Lama Jampa Thaye, student of Karma Thinley Rinpoche and leader of the Dechen International Association of the Sakya and Karma Kagyu Buddhist tradition, makes the point more sharply. "... if a teacher is self-appointed or self-authenticated, whilst they may be very charming, intelligent, or very charismatic, the wisdom we receive from them is their own invention," he says.
Jampa Thaye also criticises the mixing of traditions, claiming this is like "taking one ingredient from each of a hundred recipes" which might lead to spending "the next seven incarnations in the toilet."
In 1997, Stephen Batchelor, a prominent Buddhist commentator, was quoted as saying that the FWBO operated as "a self-enclosed system" and that their writings "have the predictability of those who believe they have all the answers".
Currently, however, the community is a member of the European Buddhist Union and the Network of Buddhist Organisations, individual members of the order serve on the board of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, and the FWBO's former magazine, Dharma Life, frequently carried articles by Buddhists from other organisations.
The Guardian report
In October 1997, the FWBO and Western Buddhist Order were rocked by a report by the religious affairs correspondent of the UK newspaper The Guardian, which made wide-ranging allegations of sexual misconduct, dogmatism and misogyny within the movement during the 1970s and 1980s.
The most detailed complaints reported were claims by Mark Dunlop, a former lover of Sangharakshita, who had lived with the movement’s founder for a number of years in the early 1970s, and left the order in 1985.
The report described intimate details of what Dunlop characterised as their relationship, and claimed that Sangharakshita, who declined to comment, had told him “that to develop spiritually he had to get over his anti-homosexual conditioning.”
“The head of the community was a very powerful, intrusive personality and incredibly manipulative. He would intuitively become aware of people's vulnerabilities,” the source was reported to have said.
A report by a clinical psychologist said, among other things:
He stated that he did not indulge in homosexual practices, although attempts were made for him to do so both by using inducements and by using threats.”
Following The Guardian report, a widespread debate ensued.
Critics pointed to writings by Sangharakshita, and his senior advisor Dharmachari Subhuti, which placed such emphasis on single-sex activities, and what the Triratna Buddhist Community calls “spiritual friendship”, that the potential for misunderstandings or inappropriate behaviour appeared to some to be inevitable.
In an official biography of Sangharakshita, published in 1994, and reissued in 2009, Subhuti says: “Sangharakshita believes that men must break down their fear of homosexuality by facing the fact that there may be some element of sexual attraction towards their friends.”
Expressing views found in Buddhist texts from their earliest times, he has argued, for example, that, at least in the early stages of their spiritual careers, men are more apt to commit themselves to the spiritual life than women.
In 1986, he wrote that the couple and nuclear family can be sources of neurosis.
Although scriptures and historians recognize that the Buddha himself had concerns over such issues, particularly after the birth of his son Rahula, when he left home convinced that "family life was incompatible with the highest forms of spirituality", critics cite Sangharakshita's conservative views as evidence that misogynystic attitudes persisted in the FWBO during the 1980s.
Evidence that those ideas may have been more widely held is also found in the writings of Subhuti, who echoes the sutras when he says in his book, 'Women, men and angels,' that to be reborn as a woman is to be less spiritually able than to be reborn as a man.
As a movement, what was then the FWBO gave detailed responses and staunchly supported its founder, while in 2010 the renamed movement published an official history which acknowledged widespread concern among order members that, at least in the 1980s and before, the founder had misused his position as a Buddhist teacher to sexually exploit young men.
The controversies have attracted little public interest, and in recent years both The Guardian, and its sister Sunday newspaper, The Observer, have run many supportive items, recommending community activities.
A Guardian Web directory listed the FWBO website as "a good starting point for children."