Buddhism Today: Renewal and Relevance

by Jaya

Manchester Buddhist Convention October 11th 2014-05-1914

 

The Manchester Buddhist Convention (MBC) 2014 will take place on the 11th of October 2014 at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy who has kindly hosted the event for the two previous years.

 

After discussion with the Venerable Piyitissa (founder member of the event), feedback from participants last year and discussions among ourselves, we have settled on the theme:

 

Buddhism Today: Renewal and relevance

Responding to the challenges of our times.

 

We will keep our focus of Dhamma/Dharma and practice and ask presenters to configure their presentation with this theme in other strands.

 

We face multiple challenges today – they hardly need identification. The economic crisis is ongoing – last week newspapers reported that once again the gap between the rich and poor has widened in this country.  The gap between rich and ‘poor’ countries (or countries disadvantaged by the economic system) deepens.  Conflict is part and parcel of our daily news ‘diet’.  At a conference I attended, a friend who has suffered from a back injury for years, related how she was able to deal with her pain with some equanimity but found it hard to know how to confront and respond to the pain that she witnessed in the world – a notion that resonates with many of us. We may not have civil strife on our door-step but we are implicated in ‘outside’ conflicts and there is much violence on our streets.  All this create pain to Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike.  In mid- April the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change made it clear that our lifestyles is having an massive negative on the planet; an impact that is already hugely visible in Africa and Asia and is beginning to be felt here. Pollution brings related health problems.

 

These are some of the external crises we face. Contingent to these are the inner problems they create – anxiety, stress’, hostility to ‘difference’, concern for generations to come (sometimes appearing to conflict core Buddhist concepts.)

 

So how do we as Buddhists or people on a ‘spiritual quest’ respond to these multiple challenges?  How do we put compassion into action, take responsibility and maintain equanimity?  People have said that they take their practice into their work.  Through becoming better, more informed and ‘compassionate’, we have an impact on the multiple ‘environments’ we inhabit.

 

Other Buddhists ask,

‘Where is our presence on the Streets?’

‘Why don’t we run any soup kitchens?’

‘What is our response to social needs?’

‘Why is there such a ‘gender imbalance’ in practice? ‘

‘Why is there so little diversity in many Buddhist Centres in terms of class, culture and ethnicity?’

Other questions concerns the teaching of the Dharma/Dhamma itself.

 

‘How does the presentation of the Dhamma/Dharmaneed to change in the West?’

‘Is the hierarchical structure right for the 21st century in any part of the world?

‘Is the Dhamma/Dharma sectarian or is it we, the people who are?’

‘If it is us what can we do about it?’

‘What can we change or alter in the message of the Buddha without losing the essence – the source?’

‘When do we loose the lineage and is lineage important?’

‘If we lose lineage, do we or don’t we lose the Dhamma/Dharma?’

 

Some people say that there are core beliefs that most Buddhist can agree on?  But is this the case?  Certain concepts that have been seen as central are being questioned in the West* – reincarnation and even karma being two (aka ‘Secular Buddhism’).  There are some people who seem to be asking no more than that we are allowed to be comfortable within ourselves; makes us more peaceful, allows us to engage more calmly in the frenetic world we choose to create.  Is this the way the Dharma needs to go in the West?  Is this enough?  Should we accept this as a starting point?

 

I hear these questions. I ask some of them and I feel it’s time to put them on a blank page. We may not be able to answer them but it seems we cannot shy away from them. These are questions that are reflected in our society and societies elsewhere and we have to look at them – as the Buddha did – which was the start of his quest.

 

The Buddha answered some of these questions directly, others by example– eg – he showed us how to respond to the needs of others; to scarce resources, to other people’s illnesses, to the teaching themselves. (The Kalama Sutta tells us to ‘test’ all teachings, including his own.)

 

The Convention offers a format to reflect on these together as Buddhists and as people who are concerned with the health of the planet and its creatures and who wish to bring a non-material element to these reflections.

 

We have to respond to issues that simply did not exist in the time of the Buddha.  If we value our integrity, our people, our planet we need to come to grips with these.

 

I have put words to them but they are not mine alone. Some of the MBC planning group may share these questions. Others may not. People who feel strongly, one way or another are encouraged to respond so that some sort of discussion can begin even before the Convention takes place.  I hope to follow this up with other updates.

 

A suggestions has been that we organise events through the year that some of the Centres host. These could be further to the discussions that we have at the Convention.

 

Dhamma/ Dharma greetings to all.

Jaya

 

* It may be useful to keep in mind that the Dharma has always evolved as it moved into different countries and over time. It evolved even in India, the country of its birth both, before the reign of Ashok and after it.

 

 

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