Tag Archives: Jaya Graves

MBC 2014 – Jaya Graves

Theme: ‘Buddhism Today: relevance and responding to the Crises of our times

 

MBC 2014 took place, as usual on the second Saturday of October – ie Saturday 11th, at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy, Oxford Road. As always, our thanks go to Rev. Terry Biddington and his team who made the Venue available to us.

The theme was decided from feedback received over the years, discussion with the Venerable Piyatissa and among ourselves – ie – the MBC Planning group.

 

As always, the programme develops through dialogue with people who respond and/or are invited to make an input. Over the years we have become familiar with areas of work that some Centres and presenters are interested in. But there is enough difference and variety to keep us lively and on our toes! Last minute withdrawals and additions make programme planning an open-ended process almost to the day before.

 

The day started with a short ceremony in the Foyer. We created a small shrine and began with chanting from different schools of Buddhism and in several different languages – Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan and English – a moving and unifying start. One person came to me and said, ‘that’s it Jaya. This is what I came for…’.

 

Responding to suggestions, we decided that instead of short ‘keynote’ inputs we would have discussion groups before lunch. So after a short ‘setting the scene’ session in the Auditorium, we broke into three discussion sessions – ‘Buddhism in Action’, ‘Tzu Chi: Buddhism as Compassion in Action’, and ‘Gender and Buddhism’. This was followed by lunch after which the programme continued in the normal pattern – ie – themed strands that could be followed through the day – Practice, Dharma/Dhamma topics, Buddhist based activity and human rights. People could choose to follow a strand through the day or vary their choices. (1)

 

As I could not split myself into 5 to attend each sessions (which I sometimes wish I could!) the report is a mixture of hearsay, feed-back and attendance.

 

‘Buddhism in Action’, explored what was happening in the national, European and Global context. (2) It addressed different levels of engagement – the national, European and International. The point was made that there are over 250,000 Buddhists in the UK but they seem not to be ‘connecting’ with their social and political power to ‘create change’. A similar point was made in the session, ‘Has Buddhism lost it’s radical edge?’(3) This could stem from the notion that ‘politics’ is somehow beneath or outside the Buddhist framework. Others say that they take it into their personal work. (4)

 

Tzu Chi ‘spoke on their activities in the UK’. Here is a comment about this session, ‘a most illuminating exploration of Engaged Buddhism with clear reference to contemporary examples of how Buddhist concepts and ideas relate. The discussion explored how the principle of rebirth and karma relates to repentance and service.’ Tzu Chi works on several fronts in Manchester – with women, with refugees and does environmental work in Cheetham.’ (5)

 

The third discussion was ‘Gender and Buddhism’(6). The session was concerned more with the ‘how’ questions rather than ‘if’– no one questions the notion that women are capable of reaching Enlightenment. We were concerned, among other things’, on gender disparity in general, epitomised by the loss of full ordination for nuns. The accusation has been made that this was a case of ‘male book-keeping’. Patriarchy holds power. There is neither precedence nor directive from the Buddha. What had/was being done about it, and how the lineage of Bhikunis could be restored were concerns. (7) Examples were given of people who had taken matters into their own hands – Ajahn Brahm in Australia who has ordained nuns as have Patriarchs in various Zen traditions. The case of Shih Chao Hwei of Taiwan who tore up the garudharmas was identified. Others spoke of nuns in the FGS, Tzu Chi (founded by the nun, Master Chen Yen), Lama Shenpen in Hookham. A visit is suggested. Tibetan Buddhism has women lamas but doctrinal positions as well as attitude towards nuns and women vary within and between lineages. ‘Equality’ needs to be the norm not a ‘gift’ of a patriarchal hierarchy. So there is some way to go!

 

‘Maple Leaves in Autumn’, presented an inspiring project undertaken by a Monastery in Fukushima after the Tsunami which had had a massive impact on the psyche of the people. The abbot and monks collected contaminated soil in large plastic bags; transported and stored this monastery grounds. Sunflowers were planted to help transform the soil and remove radioactivity. (A symbol of transformation and hope to 2 million people; it creates a ripple effect outwards) (8); a session by the Sale Buddhist Centre – ‘This was a most thoughtful, sensitive and articulate exploration of four key aspects of Buddhist belief and practice;’ Stonewater Zen ‘explored perspectives on contemporary issues and raised the question (which arose throughout the day) of ways to respond to what can appear to be overwhelming events in the world…’. Jeremy filled in at the last minute for Alan Smith of Soto Zen who was unwell. FGS, SGI, the Chaplaincy and Faith and Fire updated us on their work and led practice sessions.

 

There were two later discussion sessions. ‘Mindfulness in the NHS’ was well attended and explored, ‘the difficulties as well as delights of retaining the authenticity of mindfulness within a secular organization that is driven by targets and outcomes. Opinion ranged from a sense of ‘anything is better than nothing’, to concern that mindfulness was being stripped of its ethical mooring. (9) ‘Buddhism in the West was led by panellists. (I was handed notes from this session and write from these). The general view seems to have been that while aspects of Buddhist expression needed to change, the core elements should be retained. Some points raised questions in my own mind – eg – the dichotomy between ‘science and the spiritual’, generalisations about ‘gender equality’, ‘taking Buddhism back to the East’ where the Dharma has ‘stagnated’. I would suggest caution in these assumptions which may be views from the best intentioned and influential of teachers from the East, or from Western practitioners who travel there. There is a difference in how Buddhism is practiced in countries where it is established. This doesn’t mean it is ‘stagnating’. We may have lessons to learn from this – the value and need for Dana; respect for symbols of the Buddha. Also what Western people ‘do’ will be judged within a post-colonial discourse. ‘Working together’, is a less problematic notion. Personally, what I find alarming and painful is the growth of militancy within the monastic community in some ‘traditional’ countries. Is this not something we need to be aware of? What could be our response? Are there lessons we can usefully learn? It will be worth writing this session up as it seems to be topic to which we will return over the years – so watch this space and send us your thoughts/notes.

 

Feedback

Feedback from the Convention was generally good. These are some comments, ‘ An inspirational event’. An event for the good ‘of many sentient beings’. ‘Discussion and thoughtfulness…’ One comment regretted the loss of the ‘inspirational’ input at the start of the day’. This is something that we will need to re-consider. Others felt that there were not enough ‘practice sessions’ (however, having looked at the Programme, I think this must be a matter of personal choice); a suggestion that the sessions were ‘too wordy’. Buddhist action needs to be embedded in Dharma/Dhamma. (Again, this could have been a matter of specific presentations but also something we need to remind would be presenters.) Several people remarked that though there was interaction on one level, people who came in groups tended to remain in their group but we could all benefit from learning about each others practices and work. One person was impressed by how the topics fitted neatly with each other and the theme though each was a whole and had been developed separately. Interesting…

 

The Future

Practice and Dharma sessions will underpin future Conventions. This is, after all a Buddhist Convention, not a Convention about Buddhism.

 

Themes that seem likely to continue are ‘Buddhism in the West’. This has come up over the year and comes up in different sessions. Others could be Gender/human Rights and Buddhism; Buddhism and social action’. ‘Obstacles to practice and possible remedies’; has been requested. Hearing from others would help us develop what we do in the future.

 

The Convention planning group started out with just 6 people – a small number for an initiative that is growing in size as well as complexity. Later in the year we were joined by a cohort of energetic friends– all of whom have indicated that they want to remain in the planning group. This will indeed be a boost to planning. Sharing responsibilities will facilitate the organisation of the event. We are happy to have ideas from the attendees whether or not they want to participate in meetings. It’s good to feel that we are planning with a group of people who are interested in what is happening in the MBC.

 

Apart from personal commitment, a Convention of this size and range requires resources. The Convention started on a ‘dana’ (donation) basis. We have decided not to indicate even a ‘suggested donation’. We take seriously the notion of giving as an opportunity to give, for all. If people attending the Convention give generously, we cover our costs, offer our host a decent share and have a small ‘roll over’ for the next event. So we urge you to reflect on whether you want the MBC to continue. Perhaps as part of the discussion on ‘Buddhism in the West’, we can reflect on the place of ‘generosity/dana’ as a core Buddhist principle.

Some Reflections

Several ‘older’ supporters and even Centres are not as visible as they used to be. On the other hand, certain Centres that have not attended or didn’t particularly support the MBC attend in greater numbers. Smaller centres are more involved in the planning group. There are more people from some ‘traditional’ Buddhist countries. There are quite a number of younger faces but fewer students. More people from different ‘faith’ systems are attending. It is interesting that we seem to have many new attendees at successive Conventions.

 

My Centre is in Scotland and I practice in several different centres and feel ‘at home’ and welcomed. Because I coordinate the MBC, develop the Programme, do some personal liaison and contact and meet with individuals from different centres who are interested and concerned with the development on the Dharma/Dhamma in the West, I hear and engage in conversation to try and understand what is happening and what people and centres think. This is always a privilege, interesting, sometimes a bit disheartening. Here in the west we are privileged with a huge range of different lineages and schools of Buddhist thought. The core teachings have to be the same but approaches and attitudes can be strikingly different. There are also long memories that have created dissent and suspicions about motivations among individuals as well as Centres. Because the style of an individual or group is outgoing does not mean that s/he or it is trying to ‘take over’ or dominate the Buddhist scene. It may be just enthusiasm for the Dharma. Other Centres maybe more introverted and ‘outreach’ is more about bringing people into Centres than becoming involved in ‘intra-Buddhist’, inter-faith’ or social dialogue. I’m sure there is a need for different approaches but not a need for distrust. My hope for the next decade of the MBC is that while we continue to strengthen our own Centres, we will find some time to support the MBC or other networks trying to build a cohesive and trustful Dharma/Dhamma in the service of society and humanity as a whole.

 

The Convention serves different. It may be social, to meet other groups or to learn. For me, it constructs a Mandala, a sacred space, within which to explore meaning and exchange ideas of service, healing, love, compassion, peace, identifying what is already being done; what else could/needs to be done; provides space to investigate our own inner space, ability and commitment and re-commit to these aims.

 

  • We will post presentations and discussion session notes on the website over the year.
  • Notes will be posted
  • Presentation will be posted.
  • The Buddha may not have been overtly ‘political’ but he made political interventions and gave advice when it was sought. His work and teaching had social and political implication stemming from the injunction that these engagements should be rooted in compassion.
  • The MBC is grateful to Tzu Chi for their generous donation (as in other years.)
  • Will be a post.
  • Some men say that discussions on Gender are a ‘turn-off’. Here are a couple of sites and books: Bhikkuni Websites: Sakhyadita, Alliance of Bhikkunis. Books: Religion and Society; on our own: An Agenda for the 21st Century; Buddhist Women and Social Justice – Ideals, Challenges and Achievements. We can also explore the Buddha’s own teachings.
  • Will be a post.
  • Maybe a post. There will also be an MBC event on this topic

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester Buddhist Convention 2013: comments and reflection

The Manchester Buddhist Convention took place on Sat 12th of October at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy as the year before.

As before, it was wonderful to have been able to hold it here and our thanks go to the Rev. Terry Biddington and his team. It is a great, central location, large and comfortable.

Many thanks need to be made but I want to begin with some thoughts about the Convention itself.  Some of it is from feedback. Some from conversations.

First the critique:

Two people mentioned, ‘chaotic moments’. One person said there was some of chaos but it was soon resolved – ‘… a bit like life’.

With 25+presenters and 200+ attendees in a space to which we gain full access only at 9pm the night before, will always entail some degree of ‘chaos’. I’m more interested is in how we deal with the chaos rather than the chaos itself so I hope you will accept this. Each year some things get better and other things crop up.

One person mentioned the length of inputs and how they fitted together but more felt that they were complementary and responded to the theme in a remarkable way.  Several commented on how moving they had found them.

The acoustics were a problem. I am trying to understand the reason for this as the Auditorium has an in-built microphone system. I can only suppose that it is more suited to lecturing than to discussion. Anyway we will examine this problem and will review how we use this space next year.

Feedback on the Science session was uniformly good (apart from comments about acoustics!) – well presented and engaging.  Critique came from panel members themselves some of whom felt that tighter facilitation would have encouraged discussion. We may follow up on the Science strand next year, perhaps focussing on a specific theme from this year’s session. It’s clearly of great current interest and the impact of meditation on the neural pathways is a popular area of research, while  mindfulness ‘training’ is finding it’s way into all area of work including the NHS and schools.  One question posed was whether Science represented an alternative to faith or had become or another ‘faith system’.  (The Jury’s out on that one.)

The Gender and Buddhism session observed that Buddhism, ‘changes every time it enters a new culture, and feminism is something that Buddhism is absorbing now, with various degrees of success.’  Gender ‘politics’ has never been invisible or uncontroversial in Buddhism from the time when Mahaprajapati’ implored the Buddha to permit women into the sangha.  Women have also been teachers. A wonderful example is the hunch- backed slave Khujjuttara whose teachings are the Itivuttaka (‘This was said by the Noble One’) and is said to pre-date the Pali canon. A life well-worth examining. (It would also be useful to reflect on the difference and convergence of the two notions – gender and feminism.)

Now change and challenge is happening both East and West and have as much to do with a new millennium as a new culture. Some instances of women’s activism are – Buddhist nuns in China/Tibet (eg – Nun Ngawang Sandrol who has spent over 15 years in jail in severe conditions.)  Bhiksuni Chen Yen, founder of Tzu Chi (So it was really very good to welcome Tzu Chi back to the Convention this year. Bhiksuni Chao hwei Shih, who lobbied the Dalai Lama to recognise full ordination for women, tore up the 8 Gurudharmas, established a research institute for applied ethics, animal rights, environment and conservation in Taiwan.  Joanna Macy, long term socialist and activist, Bell Hooks activist on class, race and gender issues within Buddhism, Joan Halifax who founded Upaya and the International Women’s Partnership (established in Thailand and includes all spiritual paths not just Buddhist) to name a few. It would be interesting to explore this in some depth at a future Convention or to have it as a MBC sponsored workshop.

Here is a nice final comment  ‘…you cannot be too mindful: it is best to be mindful at all times, it is also preferable to be Feminist at all times – whatever it means for each individual.

Several people commented on Buddhism and social action sessions. One person observed that it challenged ‘the stereotypical image of sitting and meditating’ – a stereotype that never fails to surprise me. It flies in the face of the Buddha’s own example – a life of action and service as well as practice – having left family, wealth and home to serve a wider community that included those he had left. An example to learn from is the way he cared for a sick monk who had been abandoned by his comrades and chided them for doing so. He taught by demonstration – tending the sick; challenged the status quo in relation to both caste and gender, again by example rather than overt confrontation, though he didn’t recoil from challenge if it became necessary. Could it be that one reason why this stereotype exists is because meditation is sometimes approached as a technique without a spiritual underpinning? Something that just makes us feel better?  Buddhism (like other spiritual paths with meditative practices) becomes decontextualised, without a framework.  Nor is it embedded in the cultural fabric. Yet Buddhists are reluctant to engage with other schools which could facilitate the development of a framework, make us visible and anchor us more deeply in this society.  I think we also short-change ourselves over the amount of work Buddhist centres do.  Many (most?) are quietly active both here and overseas.  I know that Tibetan lineages (with which I am most familiar) have schools, feeding centres, hospitals, etc in Europe, Asia and Africa.  It would be interesting if someone in the different Centres did a quick survey on what their centres were involved in and we could begin to develop a compendium of practical Buddhist contributions.

Some other comments:

  • The MBC is a truly worthwhile event; it is especially commendable getting together so many people from different traditions and packing so much into a small space and short time. The plans for expanding and/or building on the success of this event will be really interesting.
  • Some themes that came up were relationships in all their forms, Everyday life dharma, textual study of scriptures, discussion around including meditation in the programme (Some people want more, some less -different strokes for different folk!) (There were 2 meditation strands in a tight programme. Textual study of the scriptures  needs to be ongoing programme. The MBC can provide a space where interest in this can be explored or advertised
  • As a field, Buddhist Chaplaincy is growing, but it will never operate on the same scale as in other World Faith communities. What it does seem to be doing is asking serious questions that have relevance to us all(We tried to get a speaker from Angulimala, the prison chaplaincy service who were very interested but over committed.)
  • General feeling that MBC got beyond individual sanghas and gave bigger picture….one lady said that’s why she kept coming to the event.
  • Some talk about Art and Buddhism. (So could be a good theme to pick up)
  • Environment and connection to Dharma.
  • In the end Buddhism transcends all divisions, including gender.

The day was underpinned by meditation, practices and specific Dharma/Dhamma topics from the different schools represented in Manchester – a range of Zen, Chan, Theravada and Tibetan practices, presented by deeply committed people helped create a vivid tapestry of a spiritual paths that has ways and means to suit the needs of most searchers and could have very simple and applicable answers to the issues that face us in the world today.  Unlike early Buddhist societies, we have access to all the different schools – some austere, some reflective, others quite wild! The MBC brings all these together.  What began as a get-together of Buddhists in Manchester is fast becoming an annual event that attracts Buddhists from a much further afield, as well as people of different faith backgrounds. This is the main strength and service it offers the Dhamma/Dharma.  Feedback indicates that this is also what people appreciate most. Would it not be wonderful if Buddhists could develop an ongoing discourse that is not just an annual event? We have a few ideas we may approach people/centres with in the future.

Thanks must go to the presenters – the ideas you brought, time put in, comments, discussions and promises of future help; to those who stepped in at the last moment. Thanks to Tzu Chi who made a very generous donation to the MBC- all the funds they raised from the sale of books on the day! All this is an example of Buddhism in action and all for the joy of sheer giving!  Final and great thanks must go to the wonderful steering group.  (Jeeta raho as they say in India – continue to live!)

This report comes out just as we re-group to organise the 2014 event when we can follow up on some of the ideas. MBC 2014 will take place, as usual on the second Saturday of October 11th at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy.  Details will follow but please put that date in you diaries.

Metta and maître to all.

Jaya.

 

Manchester Buddhist Convention 2013 would like to say a huge thank you to all involved in making this year’s event so successful and enjoyable – that includes the University Chaplaincy for providing the space, visiting Venerables , monastics and speakers from many traditions, the Steering Group, including the cooks and kitchen helpers, and all groups and individuals who attended.

It was lovely to see you all there – thank you for coming and we look forward to seeing you next year.Theravada Buddhist Monks from Ketumati Buddhist Vihara Oldham (Sri Lankan Monastery), Saraniya Centre Salford (Burmese Monastery) and Wat Sriratanaram Baguley Manchester (Thai Monstery)  at Manchester Buddhist Conference 2013

Photo : Thai, Burmese and Sri Lankan Theravadan monastics , from three different monasteries in Greater Manchester, in the opening session at the MBC 2013.

What is Manchester Buddhist Convention?

An emerging ‘interBuddhist’ tradition , unique to Manchester and reaching out to the whole North West, and aiming to:

bring together the Buddhist community in the North West and foster dialogue and understanding between followers of different Buddhist traditions.
Preparing the venue and running the day is a joint endeavour – please let us know if you would like to be involved.

The 2013 Convention was on  Saturday 12th October

Venue: St. Peter’s Chaplaincy, Oxford Road. 

Time: 9 am – 5 pm

Update:

This may be the last update we send unless there are urgent things to communicate, therefore please make a note of the following:

  • This year we don’t plan to print timetables or presenter notes this year. Please download and print for your own use. These will be posted on the website by the 6th October at the latest, so do keep checking. If you are a Dharma Centre or have access to printing equipment, could you consider printing off a few for your own attendees and for use by others on the 12th and bring them with you? This will be much appreciated.
  • Programmes of the day will, hopefully, be pasted on the every floor and definitely on the middle floor.
  • Coffee, tea and lunch will be served only within the designated times – ie –

coffee – 9am- 9.45

lunch – 11.30-12.40

tea – 15.10 – 15.30

If you require refreshments between these times please bring your own. There are also cafés around St. Peter’s.

  • There is a multi-storey car park behind St.Peter’s and some ‘off road’ parking metres but no free parking. No parking is available in St. Peter’s Chaplaincy itself.
  • There will be paper for your comments and feedback. If you wish to reflect first, don’t hesitate to contact us later on facebook, the website or to me at:  jayagraves@yahoo.co.uk
  • Next year’s Convention will depend on how many people are willing to become actively involved in organising it and how the work is shared so if you value this event, please consider joining the Steering Group. There will be a briefing and discussion early next year where we will decide how to go forward. To join the to join the steering group; contact us at the same addresses.
  • Any ideas for future Conventions will be welcome most welcome. It is the ideas that are generated by you that create the Convention.
  • This is a free Convention run by volunteers and presenters who give their time freely and bear their own expenses. However, there are major costs involved – food, venue, publicity, petrol etc.  The core group will carries some of this. However, if you are able, can you remember to make a donation so that we are able to continue to run a free Convention to which all Buddhists and non- Buddhists invited. There will be donation boxes dotted around the Venue.

Looking forward to seeing you again,

With Dhamma/Dharma greetings,

Jaya

Strands/topics for the day in 2013 will be:MBCphoto1

  • Science and Buddhism
  • Buddhism in the World
  • Human Rights and Gender
  • Dharma Topics
  • Meditation

Stick with one strand, or cherrypick.  We will also have keynotes, a discussion session and a space to just be. As always, the success of the day will depend on how you participate in it!

There is no set charge but Dana will be welcome and needed to cover the basic cost of venue, food and other expenses. Register for mbc 2013

On the day, programmes will be posted on walls on the Chaplaincy.

 

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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Buddhism in the World by Jaya Graves

Buddhism in the World

English: The worlds largest tibetan stupa

Image via Wikipedia

Forty years ago, you could arguably, fit the number of Buddhists teachers, if not on the tip of a needle, then on the square platform of a Saxon church.  All this has changed as the number of Buddhist centres grow exponentially. Two major causes are cited for this. One is the post-war occupation of Japan which brought Zen to the West.  The other is the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Alongside the carnage, this created a huge exodus of Tibetan lamas to India from where they and the teachings spread across the world. 

Buddhism is often defined as a religion. Books on the subject are tumbled into “religious” sections of libraries and bookshops.  Occasionally, they appear on philosophy shelves. But how does it define itself?   Buddhists refer to the “dharma” – the way. Buddhism is not a theistic “religion”. There is no creator god issuing commandments, judging or punishing. Nor is there anyone who promises salvation. Salvation is possible, even inevitable, but we will reach it through our own efforts.  Neither is Buddhism a philosophy. It aims to go beyond concepts, the domain of Western philosophy. To do this it uses a thorough and rigorous investigation of inner and outer phenomena that include ideas, emotions, actions and interactions.  Phenomena are unstable and impermanent – a dance of particles – an instability we are unable to control. We cannot create permanence.

Imagining we can control phenomena creates many of our current delusions and anxiety. And from this stems our conflicts with ourselves, with each other, between neighbourhoods and nations. Since the data of our human situation is subject to continual change it follows that our investigation must also be continuous and our conclusions must be adjusted. This personal investigation is central to Buddhist practice.  There are no laboratories.  No contrived replication. For this reason the process is sometimes dismissed as “subjective” and unscientific. It is not “evidence-based”. I am arguing that it is tested.  It is evidence based but not necessarily within the Western framework of investigation. It is personalbut it is not subjective. We have the support of teachings and commentaries. Investigative practices have been explored and established. Skilled and wise researchers have “peer reviewed” these over millennia and continue to do so. But in the end it is our own inner tenacity, our passionate intention through which we must judge our path and progress.

This core practice is undertaken not only to create a degree of ease in ourselves but through a commitment to everything that lives. The development of compassion for all things is part of being human and cannot be conditional. It must include those with whom we agree, whose belief systems are congruent to our own as well as those we may traditionally see as “enemies” or who harm us, or whose belief systems challenge our own or whose interpretation of life is alien to ours. We need to be judicious but we cannot judge the person only the action.  On this Buddhism takes no hostages. Our concern must include all living things (not only human).

Buddhism is moving from the fringes to centre stage. It offers strategies to deal with fraught lives.  Meditative practices can be oases of calm at home or in centres. It is not a continuous assault to make choices, make judgements, accumulate information, juggle loyalties. It turns the attention inward.

The binary frameworks generally used to explain or explore our experience are flawed.  By this I mean that there is an ideological split between spirit and matter; theism and atheism. (Buddhism is non theistic not atheistic.) The dichotomies of either/or, good/evil, black/white, lies/truth, for us or against us, need not coalesce into destructive factions within us and between us in which there is no accommodation and between which we must choose, sometimes on pain of death.  Contradiction is is the stuff of our human condition. We are not asked to repress and destroy these. Instead it is suggested that they obscure our true nature. We are urged to investigate these obscurations and are offered methods to transform them. So anger can become energy. Afflictive desire can become compassion for all beings. (Not only for humans.)  Pain can teach us sympathy and concern for all.

Buddhism recognises that suffering is our inheritance and will be our legacy. It makes demands in how we locate ourselves in the world. For me, in this context, it raises questions about the infliction of a model of infinite growth on a finite system; of our assumptions of entitlement to resources; our profligate use and treatment of land and water. It challenges the notion that our main concern is “the family”.  It isn’t.  There is a family beyond the family, beyond the neighbourhood, beyond the state, the country.  Nuclear families are only a microcosm of this.  Our care has to be embedded in the wider context.  It is not a competition. It is reconfiguration.

Tried and tested methods of making an inner journey are offered. These enable us to change our own responses to a world in flux. It can harmonise relationships and enable us to maintain a degree of equanimity in personal adversity as well as in our engagement with the world. This exploration merges seamlessly into the metaphysical.  Beyond worldly flux with which we must engage there is a timeless truth.

Jaya Graves: I was born in India and work with Southern Voices, a small educational organisation concerned with issues to do with the South or “developing world”. I am involved in activities involved with refugees and the movement of people and have been active in anti-racist activities, the womens’ movement and the peace movement.

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