Category Archives: Convention 2012

Women and Buddhism: session at the MBC

Mala, Buddhist prayer beads.

Mala, Buddhist prayer beads. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Women and Buddhism

by Oxana Poberejnaia

Call for discussion

At Manchester Buddhist Convention 2012 I am inviting women and men, ordained and laypeople, to share their experiences, feelings and thoughts on the topic: women and Buddhism, and in particular women practising Buddhism here in now, in the West in 2012. Although historical analysis and geographical parallels would be useful.

The basic question is the same as in a “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” sketch about a sour-faced champion car racer: “Are you happy?” Are we, Buddhist women, happy with Buddhism? Are Buddhist men happy with the position of Buddhist women? Are we happy with the legacy we are leaving for future generations of Buddhist men and women?

This question can be re-phrased as: Are we happy because we should be happy? Because we strive to be happy? Because if we are unhappy it is our failure as women? Are we happy to keep other people happy?

Do these questions sound familiar? – Are these the same questions that women have to deal with anyway, in this patriarchal society we live in.

Absent women

I welcome any and every perspective on these questions and I disclose mine straight away: my position is that of feminism. Women in contemporary society have no place of their own. Women are seen and treated as deficient men: Men who bleed, men who cause nuisances to work places and benefit office by bearing children, men who have cycles of health, weight, and mental and emotional states. Women are constrained and contained – so that the patriarchal order of things carries on.

Women are denied their history, their language, their culture, their spirituality. Women have no land to stand on, no fortress to defend, because there is no place in society that women can call theirs. We are wives, daughters, sisters, lovers, carers, disturbers of peace. We are companions, consorts, “Other Women”, or enemies – all in relation to men. But we never stand on our own right.  We cannot describe us by defining us as what we are (as Tony Stark did for his suit).

I said that my position is that of feminism, and not male-bashing. Men do not benefit from patriarchy either. Men are involved in a meaningless non-ending struggle to be The First – which is logically and practically impossible. Men are denied their connection to themselves, to nature, to other people, as these qualities are a threat to the patriarchal system.

Is Buddhism part of problem or solution?

The question is very clear: Buddhism in the West – is it part of patriarchy or not? It is also very clear that this question is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional one. Even starting to answer it will require a lot of defining terms, a lot of deciding which criteria to include in the analysis. Then come research and surveying. Then come individual opinions of a multitude of people involved in this issue.

Therefore, what I can say on this subject is necessarily a tiny drop in the discussion, and a very personal perspective. The discussion can carry on, beyond this post and beyond the Convention, should there be such a wish in the Buddhist community.

To put the general feminist inquiry into a more practical plane, let’s consider one issue: Do the same methods of training in the Dharma work in a same way for women and men? Do women compete in spiritual “sports” that are not relevant for our spiritual development?

Buddhist Psychology

Is the image of a Dharma practitioner masculine, feminine, universal, or neither? If there such a thing as a general human? The Buddha was a man, his Mother and his step Mother were women, his teachers were men, his companions were men, his first disciples were men. Since we often claim that Buddhism is accurate in its insights into human psychology, a question arises: insights into whose psychology exactly?

Some other questions to ask ourselves are: Which part of the metta meditation is most difficult for women? Which – for men? I cannot speak for men, but for me, the first part is most difficult – wishing myself to be well and happy. Even after I have realised this, I still say to myself: “Yeah, yeah, I really should.. “ but tend to skip that part of the metta meditation anyway.

Buddhist Ethics

A question about Buddhist ethics would be: Does it overlook women and focus primarily on men? Does it sometimes seem that Buddhist ethics aims to getting men to the place where women are already? Taking one saying from Sutta Nipata 1.8:

Even as a mother

protects with her life

Her child, her only child,

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish

all living beings.

Should we not, as women, immediately refer this to our own experience, like so: “Oh, right, so, it means that I should cherish all living beings the same way I protect my own child (for women who have children) or as I already protect children of other women, my relatives, my friends, environment, and so on”. But do we as women do that – let’s answer honestly? Most of the time, we do not. Because when we approach Buddhism, we approach it as generic spiritual seekers, as the same deficient men we have been all our lives. And instead we start conjuring in our heads that Indian woman, whom the Buddha had in mind, whose properties we are invited to emulate.

Men’s Initiation Rites

When we come to Buddhist practice, we might enquire something like this:

As monastic practice is in many ways a model for our Western lay practice (since we know that many Buddhist lay practitioners in the East do not practice formal meditation), we might consider: Are Buddhist monasteries an extension and continuation of men’s long house, places of men’s initiation rites?

These long houses, supposedly, were part of many hunter-gatherer cultures, and survived in our fairy tales as houses in forests where a group of males live (as in Snow White). The features of long houses: exclusively male company, hard ordeals, which are taken on together, secrets, hierarchy, sense of belonging and achievement – carry on into our society in such institutions as army, sports clubs, gang culture, and various closed groups and professions, such as, say, a predominantly male University Faculty, or a political party.

How do you get ahead in the army, in a political party? By being the toughest, by pushing yourself the hardest. Are such measures of Buddhist “success” and “seniority” as a number of “strict retreats” related to this? And, considering family commitments of women, are they left behind when assessed by the number of strict retreats they have done?

Another feature of male initiation ceremonies, as well as of men’s predominant activity for millions of years – hunting – is silence. We encourage the practice of silence at our retreats and wider practice. Is it relevant or helpful for women?

If we value silence as a counterweight to “idle chatter” this might very well be relevant for men: their connection between emotion and speech centres in the brain is smaller than that of women. When women speak to each other, though, it can be idle chatter, or it can be a meaningful exchange of deep emotions and insights.

Let us ask ourselves: When women come together in deep spiritual connection, what do they do? Do they go in deep silence, like men, conditioned by thousands of years of hunting and fishing together? Or do they do something else?

Buddhist Institutions

Another question is: Is it more difficult for women to follow a male teacher (including the Buddha) or to lead in a Buddhist organisation? And – related to that: when giving a Dharma talk, is it more difficult for us women to emulate talks that men give or to tell the truth of our, women’s practice? I, for example, in ten years of practice had never ventured to say anything outside the boundary of what I have heard from my male teachers, until this note.

Why? Because I have bought in the whole hierarchy system and thought more of climbing the ranks of the Buddhist community here in the West than about my inner truth, the light unto myself that I should be following. I wanted to please the teachers, to show them that I am within the mould.

Menstrual Cycle

When pointing at the most obvious difference between men and women – i.e. menstrual cycle – does this affect women’s practice and should it be acknowledged by Buddhist teachers?

Is sitting practice adequate for women with menstrual cycle? Should we prepare women to the fact that their practice will be very different depending on whether they are in the menstruating phase of their lives, are about to start it, or are about to end it?

Should we take into account the fact that if women are menstruating, there will be four phases they will go through every moon cycle: a more energetic and extrovert one, an energetic one where energy is directed to caring about others, and introverted one, and a withdrawal phase?

Sex and how not to get attached to it

Buddhist teaching recommends steering clear of lust. One of the more well-known techniques for curing the mind of attachment to bodily shapes is meditating on a corpse. I cannot speak for men, but I was given to understand that men are willing to have sex at any moment of any day or night and that sex is what is on their mind a lot. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Conversely, I must say that every moon cycle there are days where I would do anything not to have sex. Anything. I would dig up potatoes – just don’t approach me with any sexual intentions. At the same time, during ovulation I would pretty much have anyone that’s moving. And during these three days a meditation on a corpse would perhaps curtail my sexual drive. Whether it should – that is another matter. As my desire to have sex during ovulation actually has a very clear goal: procreation. It is also a part of the surge of energies I experience during the Virgin and the Mother phases of my menstrual cycle, which is then followed by going within and withdrawal of the Enchantress and the Hag phases respectively. And I need this energy to compensate for slowing down during the more introverted phases.

Another aspect of this issue is that I don’t believe the corpse meditation would be as effective on me as a woman. The thing is, women’s sexuality is different from men’s in that we don’t lose our heads over a pair of nice men’s legs. In fact, I can’t recall one occasion in my life when I was attracted to a man because of his long or otherwise legs. Or his chest. Or his bottom. What do I notice in a man first? Watch “Scandal in Belgravia” – “Brainy is new sexy”. I personally like brains, wit, and a passion – for anything. Be it collecting Victorian tea cups. Women look for kindness and ability to raise children in their men. So, how would I cure myself of attachment to brains? By picturing a stupid man?

Preliminary conclusions

If that is the case, should women not concentrate on other aspects on their Buddhist practice: for example, concentrate on loving themselves rather than loving others, searching to insert more feminine into Buddhist hierarchy and leadership, seeking their own inner truth – and I cannot think about anything else, really.

We as women do not have a positive place in Buddhism in the same way as we do not have a positive place in society. We can just about point to what we are not, but how about what we are?

Perhaps Buddhist women in the West should start searching for genuinely female ways of practising Buddhism, without fear of getting it wrong. As my male feminist friend said, if the Buddha had been born in our times, he would not have become a Buddhist, he would have sought his own spiritual truth.

I feel that we women should not grasp at philosophy, psychology and practices of what might be an extension of men’s initiation rites. We had our own, women’s  secret societies, in cultures where men had theirs. And this is where we should look for inspiration. Perhaps not silence, but song? Maybe not sitting, but dance? Perchance not individual practice, but open sharing of hearts and minds?

If these thoughts evoke any reaction in you, please come to the session “Women and Buddhism” at the Manchester Buddhism Convention, in the Small Chapel, 12.45-13.30. Comment on this post. Ask further questions.

Book Swop at Manchester Buddhist Convention

English: picture of buddhist scriptures

English: picture of buddhist scriptures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*** BOOK SWOP **** BOOK SWOP *** BOOK SWOP ***

At the Buddhist Convention Sat 13th October

Bring the Buddhist books and magazines you have read and are ready to pass on and swop for ‘new’ ones.

Only 3 swops in the first instance

Manchester Buddhist Convention 2012

Manchester Buddhist Convention 2012 took place on Saturday 13 October, from 9 am to 5 pm, at St Peter’s Chaplaincy, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9GH.

Here are the first reports about the Convention. These are by Joy Bose, our beloved and oldest organiser and attendee.

Manchester Buddhist convention

Dharma discussion 

Session by community of interbeing Sangha

Session by Kwan Um Zen sangha

 

and here are some photos by Joy

 

MBC: Programme and some notes

 

The Buddha In Our Midst

 

One Root many Branches

Manchester Buddhist Convention

Saturday 13th Oct 2012

9.00 am  – 17.00pm

 

Time Main Foyer 1. (Chapel) 2.

(Ardwark Café)

3. 4. (Library) 5. (Oxford Room) 6.

(Small

Chapel)

9.00-9.50

 

 

 

9.50-10.00

Registra

tion and Refresh

ments

 

Opening Chant (Samatha Centre)

 

 

         
10.05 – 10.15  

 

 

 

Welcome, introduction etc

Jaya (MBC)

         
10.15– 10.25

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chaplaincy (Hosts)

Terry Biddington

         
10.25-

11. 25

 

 

  Input- Ven. Alan Bhuka

 Tenzin Dorjee, Usha McNab,

         
11.30 -12.40 Lunch in the Foyer
12.45-13.30

Ist Session

  1

Kalyana- Mitra – Keith Munnings

On the work

of Buddhist Chaplaincy

2

Rev. A Gordon-Finlayson. Stonewater Zen

‘What does it mean to be Buddhist in the West?’

3

Ven Chueh Yun

Fo Guang Centre

From the Noble 8 Fold Path

4

J. Sainsbury (Kajyu Ling)

On Boddhicitta

5

Dene Donalds

Community  of Interbeing

Guided and silent meditation

 

6

Oxana Poberejnaia

Women and Buddhism

13.35-14.20

2nd Session

  7

Dharmachari Buddharakshita, ‘‘Knowing Smile, Troubled World’,

8

Buddhist Group of Kendal, Ketumati, Police and Fire Service – on the work they are doing together.

9

Rev. D.Scott

Stonewater Zen Sangha,  achieving the ‘Great Awaken

ing’

10

Ven. Alan Bhuka

Soto Zen Dojo ‘Zen

and the Kesa’

 

11

Kathy Castle and Chris Ward –

Rigpa, ‘Reflections on Dying’.

12

Dr. V. Roebuck

Samatha Centre

Modern Buddhism

14.25-15.10 Discussion     Discussion      Discussion

(3rd Session)

15.1015-30 Tea Break

 

15.35 16.20

4th session (mainly meditation)

 

 

13

Ven Piyatissa

Ketumati Buddhist Vihara

4 Foundations of Mindfulness

14

Ven Pannasammy (Saranaya Dhamma Centre)

Vipasyanna meditation

 

15

Taravandana Lupson

Green Tara Puja

 

16

Phra Nicolas

(Wat

Chareon Bahvana)

Meditation on light

17

Nicheren

To be decided

18

Peter Voke –Kwan Um School of Zen

Finding the Buddha Right in Front of You

16.25-

16. 35

 

16.35-16.45

  MBC

Closing remarks

Ven Piyatissa

Dedication of merit –

         
16.45 – 17.00 Chanting.

Soto Zen

 

The Venue is on three levels.  Most of the rooms are on the middle floor and accessed from off Oxford

Road.  They have been numbered for your convenience.  Room No 5 (Oxford Room) is located on the

lowest floor. Room No 6 (small Chapel) and the space for chanting (unnumbered) are located on the

third floor. There will be people to help you locate these on the day. A large programme for reference

will be in the Foyer.

 

The opening and closing chants will take place in the Foyer. Lunch will be at 11.30 to allow those who

need to eat early to do so.  A short blessing will be said before the start of the meal.  Please allow nuns

and monks to be served first.  There will be a room allocated for Venerables.  It would also be wonderful

if they wished to join us after their lunch in other spaces. It is an opportunity for us to learn.  No food

should be taken into the Chapels.

 

There will be a board or papers for comments and feedback for what you would like to see happen

to the Convention and also what you can contribute.

 

We have decided to have open discussion fora in the third session of the day (14.25-15.10). The

fourth session (after tea) will be mainly meditation so that after the discussion you are able to go

home in a suitably harmonious state!

 

The topics for discussion are:

 

  1. The way forward for the MBC
  2. Buddhism in the West
  3. Dharma Questions

 

The topics have been chosen for obvious reasons. If you have others, one of the themes may be able

to accommodate them, or you may like to consider leading a session yourself. We can find a space

for this if you contact us very soon.

 

The opening and closing chants will take place in the Foyer. Please be aware that this is part of the

opening prayers and Sadhana with which we open the day.

 

For some years now the MBC has been organised by a very small group of people.  There was a call

for volunteers last year to expand this but even so it has remained a small group. However, we have

been joined by people farther afield than Manchester both as presenters as well as participants. The

Convention is also addressing questions that have arisen over the years so it has moved on from

Introductory and ‘taster’ sessions.  We are organising in a space ‘neutral’ to Buddhism which some

of us have welcomed but which brings more organisational issues.

 

All in all, this year seems to be something of a turning point.  It would be good, therefore, to have a

bigger working group and definitely a reference group so that the event is and feels supported and

owned by a much wider coalition of people and centres. It would also be good if the core organizing

group feel they are working in tandem with the support and interests of the Buddhist community.

It would also be useful if we want to develop some working principles.

 

 

Please read this in conjunction with the presenter’s notes which will have a few more details on the

subjects being offered by the speakers. It would be useful if you had some ideas about the sessions

you would like to attend. However, we will have to operate a ‘first come, first served’ system. If you

are very keen on a particular session and you let us know, we will try and accommodate you.

 

 

Yours in the dharma,

 

Jaya (MBC)

 

Descriptions of sessions for MBC 2012

Dhamekh Stupa, where the Buddha gave the first...

Dhamekh Stupa, where the Buddha gave the first sermon on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to his five disciples after attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. Also seen behind the stupa in the left corner is the yellow-coloured spire of Digamber Jain temple, dedicated to 11th Jain Tirthankar, Shreyansanath, known to be his birth place. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PROGRAMME   NOTES

Three Short inputs by:

Ven. Alan Bhuka                         Zen

Tenzin Dorjee                                    Tibetan Buddhism

Usha MaNab                                    Theravada

A short discussion will follow.  Longer discussion fora will take place in the session after tea. (14.25-15. 10)

Dharmacari Buddharkhshita:

‘Knowing Smile, Troubled World’, While we all reflect upon our life and situation and our view of what we think is reality, most reflections are questionable. We only have to look to the Buddha’s real love, to realise and understand that from birth we inherit a unique view of this world. However, the adult conditioned world constantly tries to change this to one of convenience, greed and self. We need determination to hold onto, or regain what we may lose of our understanding. Only when we completely awaken through realising a real love for all beings, do we deeply recognise the nature of true reality, as opposed to this world’s gross unreality and the suffering it causes.”

Ven Alan Bhuka (Soto Zen Dojo.)  0n Zazen and the kesa (robe) – its significance and the symbolic meaning, colour, stitches and bands all have meaning and is sewn by hand.

Buddhist Group of Kendal            (Theravada) ‘BUDDHISTS, FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE Pidiville Piyatissa (Head of Ketumati Buddhist Vihara, Oldham, and Chaplain to Manchester University); Jacquetta Gomes (Bodhicarini Upasika Jayasili) (Secretary, Buddhist Group of Kendal ); Chief Constable of Cumbria Stuart Hyde QPM; and Fire Officer Daryl Oprey (CFOA lead on Equality & Diversity representing CFOA Chief Fire Officers Association AND POLICE WORKING TOGETHER IN CUMBRIA’. The session will be led by Venerable).

Kathy Castle and Chris Ward: (Rigpa)Reflections on Death and Dying

“Oh well, death happens to everybody. It’s not a big deal, it’s natural. I’ll be fine”. This is a nice theory until one is dying. (Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche; Life in Relation to Death)

What is the meaning of death and what can the contemplation of impermanence and change show us? Can it awaken a fresh view of life, and death, connecting us to the core of our spiritual path, helping us to face life and death with less fear?

Join us for this reflective workshop, based on the teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

Venerable Chueh Yun: (Fo Guang Centre) will lead a dharma session on, ‘The art of living with the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path that is the path which leads to the end of suffering’.

Dene Donalds.    (Heart of Manchester Sangha, Community of  Interbeing)

This session will include guided and silent meditation, inviting of the bell and possible mindful sharing. Relaxation and a fluid practice are hallmarks of this practice, a Zen Buddhist order founded by monk and international peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh with lay and monastic members all over the world.

Rev.A. Gordon-Finlayson: ‘What does it mean to be Buddhist in the West? ‘

Taravandana Lupson: A Seven Fold Puja dedicated to Green Tara the Bodhisattva of Compassion. This will include verses in call and response, Dharma Readings, poems and Mantra all associated with compassion and Tara.

Keith Munnings:   Kalyana Mitra – a network of Buddhists from different systems wishing to work as Buddhist Chaplains in hospitals or hospices. Keith, Head of Studies of the Buddhist Chaplaincy Support Group (Kalyana Mitra), is from the Samatha Association and has been Chairman of the Buddhist Healthcare Chaplaincy Group, an endorsing body providing support to those for chaplains working in, or wishing to work, within a variety of Public Bodies

Phra  Nicholas: (Centre) Leads a meditation on light

Venerable Pannasami:  Saraniya Dhamma Centre will lead a session on            Vipasayanna.

Ven. Piyatissa : Ketumati Dhammma  Centre will explain the meditation techniques mentioned in the `SatiPattana Sutta ` The discourse of four foundations of  Mindfullness’.

Oxana Poberejnaia: leads a session on, ‘Women and Buddhism – Bring your unique perspective as a lay man or woman, or a Venerable, to join in the discussion of whether Buddhism as practiced by us her in the UK is a path suitable for women. Does Buddhism cater for women, or is it another patriarchal structure, for which women have to become “more like men” in order to establish themselves, progress and be heard?

Valerie Roebuck: The Manchester Centre for Buddhist meditation. The Samatha Centre. ‘Buddhism in Britain Today: a View from the Samatha Movement.

John Rowan:  Kagyu Ling Centre, ‘The Power of Boddhicitta – the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit for all beings – a short explanation of the altruistic heart of the Mahayana Buddhist path. This will make reference to: aspiration (the start and continuing spark which fuels the fire of bodhicitta), application, conventional and ultimate bodhicitta.

Rev. Dr. Scott Sensei: Stonewater Zen Sangha of the White Plum Lineage. ‘Today lay practitioners single minded devotion to achieving the ‘Great Awakening’ has to give way to a more varied practice in which formal  Zen training and the demands and concerns of ordinary life are interwoven. Life itself then becomes a koan in which we answer the question of how to lead a life that balances our own needs with those of the people around us and the greater community.

Nichiren:            Presenter and topic to be decided

Peter Voke             (Jibal Bosal): Kwan Um School of Zen will lead a dharma talk on ‘Finding the Buddha Right in Front of You.’

 

We intend to have a space for continuous chanting if people want to do this.  At this point, the room for personal and led meditation has been subsumed by the need to find another space for presenters.

Please use the online booking form so that we can have some idea of numbers for catering purposes. Without this we cannot guarantee a substantial meal for you but will nevertheless try and see that you don’t go hungry!

It will also be useful if you give some thought to the workshops you wish to attend as spaces in different rooms vary.  We are not expecting you to inform us online but if you wish to do so then you could be guaranteed a place in that workshop.

The Programme of the day is already on the website.  The presenter notes are for you reference when having to make difficult choices!

Whatever you choose, enjoy the day and let us know how we can make it better.

In the Dharma,

 

Jaya

Manchester Buddhist Convention – the gentlest of radicals and a great social reformer by Jaya Graves

Footprint of the Buddha. 1st century, Gandhara...

Footprint of the Buddha. 1st century, Gandhara, with depictions of the triratna and the Dharmacakra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Manchester Buddhist Convention – the gentlest of radicals and a great social reformer

(Sharing some personal thoughts)

The figure that comes to most of our minds when we think of the Buddha is of a being, eyes almost shut, hands resting in meditative equipoise, or touching the earth to bear witness. Tranquil. Supreme. Beloved.
If we lose sight of the force of His life’s testimony we still return to it in our moments of stillness for the Buddha was a towering figure even when surrounded by many other deeply realised beings. (1)

That we question and reflect, as the Buddha indicated we should do, is evident in some of the themes that recur over the years – about how Buddhism engages with social issues/ what its role when faced with difficult, ethical questions (one I’ve encountered in several contexts is the matter of organ donation). Buddhism and Psychotherapy crops up every year, monastic and lay life, death and dying, ‘Buddhism in the West’ sometimes used synonymously with ‘Western Buddhism’. Some people baulk at the term ‘religion’, connecting it perhaps, with commandments, instructions and prescription. Others may be content with ‘spiritual path’ and still others will insist that it is just a philosophy which, in my mind, seems to break the heart of the Buddha’s experience, which was a spiritual awakening.

In this Convention we try to respond to some of these questions in a tangible way. Interestingly, these questions seemed to have resonated among those who offered presentations when we first sent invitations. Several new groups have also responded.

Kalyanamitra and the Buddhist Group of Kendal (BGK) are active in the social context. Kalyanamitra provides Buddhist chaplaincy to different sectors. The Buddhist Group of Kendal and the Ketumati Vihara (Oldham), are working with the Police and fire service. Rigpa are doing pioneering work on death and dying based on the work of Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the ‘Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’. Here we are responding to the Venerable Piyatissa who remarked – ‘Yes, yes we must talk about dying. It’s very popular!’

Oxana will be looking at the role of women in Buddhism. (When the Buddha was asked by Ananda if women could become awakened he replied in the affirmative. Interestingly, Martine Bachelor’s remarks in ‘The Spirit of the Buddha’ that this was in 500 BCE. But in 1000 CE, ‘…some people in Europe were still wondering whether women had souls.’)

Presenters will be looking at the interface between lay life and monastic life and what it is to be Buddhist in the West. Other will present on core Buddhist principles like compassion and Boddicitta. There will be guided meditation as well as space for continuous chanting and personal and led meditation – a rich and substantial mix

We chose the theme: ‘The Buddha in our Midst: One Root Many Branches’ to underline that though we may belong to different Buddhist systems and schools, we have a core of shared teachings and truths which are directly linked to the words, deeds and practice of the Buddha and the early sangha. It gives confidence that the teachings are still directly connected with the words of someone of such magnitude – a still living connection. (This is an overwhelming notion and gives me goose pimples when I reflect deeply on it – sorry to be so un-poetic! I also remember a friend describing a similar sensation when she first visited Bodh Gaya – ‘I might have been breathing some of the same air as the Buddha did’, she said. ) It is for this reason that ‘lineage’ is important to me. There have been cautionary voices raised, at conferences as well as at various meetings and gathering, about the danger of aligning ourselves with a particular system or school (2). Are these appropriate for the West? Will it create ‘sectarianism’?

In His lifetime, the Buddha is said to have given 84,000 dharmas or teachings. Some of these may not have been more than a few sentences. Others may have been deep teachings requested and given at different times for people of different temperaments, inclinations, understanding and employment. This was the detail of his concern – not just for one, a few but for the many, given with the same loving attention and detail for all who may have come by him. He presented us with enough material to suit the needs of most people but urged us to use our own judgement and experience, – ‘Do not believe…’ So Buddhism has thrived on dialectical debate through thousands of years. The dharma adopted and adapted to the cultural milieu in which it found itself so Tibetan Buddhism may seemingly be very different from Zen or Chan and these from Theravada. Through all this the core teachings have remained secure because they are, according to the Buddha himself the ‘ancient path’ – the truth that is. Over time it can become submerged at which point it has to be rediscovered and ‘re-presented’ by new spiritual teachers. But, thus far, Buddhists of all systems have been meticulous about keeping faith with the original teachings that Buddha Shakyamuni transmitted.

If we find ourselves in danger of losing this message of perfect inclusiveness in the fear of ‘traditions’, systems, ‘authenticity’, independence (or not), it is as well to examine what could be causing that. If it is an individualistic approach to the Buddhadharma the problem is within us. Imagining that the problem is different systems of Buddhist thought rather than our own divisiveness, misplaces the problem and will ensure that we never find a solution to the problem, which is our own egotism, sectarianism and fear. If it is not, we are free to rid ourselves of the raft that has carried us – as the Buddha himself advised. (Unless we suspect there may be rapids ahead!)

It may also be useful to recollect that in the early Buddhist Universities in India, like Nalanda and Vikramashila the different systems studied and practiced together. In Tibet, different lineages had specific monasteries but they shared teachings and methods and lamas took transmission from teachers of different lineages and still do.

There are rituals and formalities associated with different Buddhist systems but this is not the ‘heartwood’ of Buddhism. These are contained in the teachings given by the Buddha and are the basic core that we share. It is embedded in the message compassion, not just for those we know or even for humans but for all beings. This is the central message of Buddhism – we need to allow our compassion to expand and include all sentient beings and to hold it there until suffering ceases…

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is how our chosen spiritual intention integrates with and infuses our day-to-day activities, our relationships and the smallest interactions we have, how we wake up to the day… Ideally, it is the starting point and reference for how we live and the choices we make, in the knowledge that we fall short as often as we manage to live to this aspiration in the course of a single day.

The Buddha practiced this. Every action, intervention and teaching is imbued with this message – his intervention between wrangles in the early sangha, between individuals, between tribal warlords and kings. In the early sangha there was space for murderers, for low-caste sweepers, for women, (3) for the sons of kings and priests. He didn’t set out to offend but sometimes offence was taken. He deliberately chose to teach in Prakriti and Pali – the languages of ordinary people. It was only later that the teachings were transcribed into Sanskrit, the language of the priesthood.

The Buddha lived most of his life in cities – where else? His concern and teachings were for beings. This image of sublime serenity to which we turn our minds when we think of the Buddha, one hand touching the earth the other held in meditative equipoise may be our need and is at it should be. All his actions and activity are embedded in deep-rooted humanity; in a love for all beings. It is this that makes him the gentlest of radicals and a great social reformer.

1) The Buddha is said to have taken birth in India for 5 specific reasons. One of these is that disciples from his past lives were gathering in India. The others were that there were suitable parents, a suitable situation (he was born into the warrior caste), a climate of questioning, discussion and debate and a decent lifespan.

( 2) I have chosen to dispense with the word ‘tradition’. This English word is misleading. A term we use in Sanskrit and Tibetan word is ‘yana’ or vehicle which conveys the notion of different approaches suited to different temperaments. Within the ‘yanas’ themselves, there are many different paths. There are many words like this and I think it would be a good use of our time and energy to examine these in great detail and create terminology to reflect them – terms like ‘void’, ‘emptiness’ (which are not at all to do with nothingness.) Or even ‘dukkha’, ( for which Martine Batchelor suggests ‘stress’. Dukkha is still ordinary usage in India and does not indicate soul-destroying ‘suffering’). Another one that leads into a morass of misunderstanding is ‘non-attachment’.

( 3) It has been suggested that his initial refusal was due to concern for their safety in taking the ‘homeless’ way. It is also the reason why many women who did join the Sangha were expected to stay close by where the monks lived.

Jaya Graves

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Manchester Buddhist Convention – Update May 2012

The Sangha

The Sangha (Photo credit: Big Mind Zen Center)

Update… Update… Update!

Planning for the Manchester Buddhist Convention is now well enough underway for us to say to you that it is indeed being planned, but not enough underway for us to not be biting our nails a bit!

Will we have enough participants? Will we have enough food? Will be able to cook it in time? Have we got enough cushions (even)! Will we have enough volunteers before? After? During? Will be able to create the right ethos? What do we need – Flowers? Incense? Music? Pictures? Who/where are we going to get all this from anyway?

This is partly all par for the course, I think (I hope) and partly because we have not organised a conference without the huge support of a Sangha before – food, venue, ethos.

However, we have had some really interesting offers and suggestions for the presentations/workshops already. It looks set to be an eclectic mix of Buddhist themed sessions, sessions exploring how Buddhism works in the world- eg – the interface between monastic and lay practice, the Buddhist approach to compassion and how it works in the world, precious human existence (possibly) and workshops on creativity. There will be practice/meditation sessions from the different paths. This year we will also have a ‘drop in’ space for personal meditation and a space for chanting. We hope these will be will be clear and interesting enough for people new to Buddhism or ‘fellow travelers’ as well as deep enough to appeal to the seasoned practitioner. One of the precious things, I’ve found about Buddhism is that there is always something new to learn from a session even for the presenter!

As we said before, the Convention is going to be at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy this year, which was very kindly offered to us. It has a capacity for 300 people and 7 presentation spaces.

Of course whether we can make full use of the space and the success or otherwise of the Convention is partly up to you so please could you help us in some of these ways:

Could you see if there are people who will offer us help on the day itself or on the evening before. We will have to prepare the venue before the 11th and will only get access to it in the evening.

Could you publicise this through your centres and also through individuals. Not everyone practices at a centre.

Could you fill in the online form that will find on the website so that we can have an idea of numbers for catering.

In due course we will put a form that will inform you what workshops we are offering. Would you will this in so that we have some idea of numbers for each workshop and how to allocate rooms.

And most of all – please come and help us make the day a success! Tell us what went well and what was not so good. Tell us what you’d like to see happen in the future. Tell us if and how you’d like to become involved.

Watch this space for further information as time goes on…

Your in the Dharma,

Jaya Graves (For the organising team)

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