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Manchester Buddhist Convention: October 11th, 2014

tnManchester hosts over 25 Buddhist ‘schools’ or systems of thought and practice. These include Theravada from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma, Chan, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism of all four lineages, Triratna that aims to create an interface between different schools and the SGI that is non-monastic and whose practice is based entirely on the Lotus Sutra.

Given this diversity and wealth of Buddhist thinking, the creation of a Forum to bring these together was inevitable. This was the Manchester Buddhist Convention (MBC). Founded nine years ago, it is an annual event where Buddhists of different systems, the monastic and lay communities, meet to share learning and practice.

The early events focused on providing ‘taster sessions’ and introductions to the different schools. A few years ago we felt it was time to move on from this format and explore wider issues and deeper meanings.

DSCF5540Using the strapline ‘One Root Many Branches’, we began to explore different elements of, for example, Compassion as understood in Buddhism; of Bodhicitta and the Bodhisattva path; of what we meant by ‘mind’; of subjectivity, personal investigation, science and the scientific method. For instance – Buddhism is intensely investigative. This personal investigation uses personal experience as well as other peoples’ personal investigation. It has been argued that it is, evidence based but not necessarily within the Western framework. Does this make it less valid? We continue to explore Buddhist meditation and pain relief. Buddhism gives people strength in their own life and the work they undertake. But increasingly, we aim to address the question of how Buddhists locate ourselves in a world facing multiple crises.

The day is designed to allow people to follow a ‘strand’ throughout the day if they so wish or to ‘mix and match’. They can either choose to attend all practice sessions (from different systems), or Dharma topics, or themes (for example, these could be, ‘Buddhist action in the world’ or ‘human rights’ or ‘Gender’. There are also two discussion sessions that we select through feedback or an assessment of the year before.

This year’s theme was, ‘Buddhism Today: Relevance and Revival

Responding to the challenges we face.

DSC04967Workshops examined the local, European and global context of Buddhism and the work of ‘intra’ Buddhist organisations like the chaplaincy services and Angulimala. Other workshops posed the question of whether Buddhism had lost its radical edge – relevant in a theme that aimed to address ‘relevance and renewal’. Presenters discussed the use and associated difficulties of ‘mindfulness’ in professional contexts like the NHS. However, such training may be used more creatively in more personalised, professional contexts like the Fire services. (Faith and Fire – a creative partnership between the Fire Services and Buddhists.) One workshop examined the poignant initiative taken by monks in Fukushima who collected contaminated soil from the reactor, transferred it to the monastery and surrounded it with sunflowers. These seemed to absorb the contamination safely. ‘Gender and Buddhism’ asked why full ordination of women was uncommon. If as, many women scholars argue, this was not what the Buddha taught (it is not based on precedence, as the Buddha’s instructions were, but loss of ‘lineage’. So we ask, ‘who was in control of holding the lineage’. Many have said simply – ‘It is andro-centric book-keeping.’) There were examples of people who had simply decided to ignore the ‘rules’ and inspiring women teachers.

MBC participants have suggested that Buddhists need to be more visible in social contexts but I feel we could challenge the notion that Buddhists are not active or responsive to the problems in the world. There are endless numbers of ‘projects’, trusts and processes that Buddhists have founded and/or are involved in. So we, ourselves, seem to have swallowed the notion that we are not active. What is true, and has also been raised, is that there are few intra-Buddhist Projects. I also think, as do others, that we are not very good at meeting each other and can be mistrustful. We do not all approach the world in the same way. Some schools are proactive. Some more reserved. I have seen and heard suspicion between these approaches. Enthusiasm for the Dhamma/Dharma is perceived as an intention to ‘take over’. Terminology is sometimes contentious. Monoculturality was fleetingly mentioned in one session. These may not be an issue in countries where the Dhamma/Dharma is firmly embedded or where there is just one system present.

The MBC is an ‘inter’ and ‘intra’ Buddhist event that aims to accommodate all Buddhists who wish to make a presentation. In the course of a day, the event cannot and does not aim to go into in depth investigation of Buddhist teachings but offers a spectrum of significant topics. It has moved on from introductory sessions to raise and address some doctrinal and issue-based themes in ways that are not dogmatic but discursive and participative. It has been suggested that the MBC should organise other smaller events over the year so we will have an annual event as well as a few smaller ones. Some centres have already interested in hosting an MBC event. The MBC is organised on a zero budget with a handful of volunteers, no established venue and aims to exist on a donation basis (not well established in the West), so the continuation of the events will be contingent on donation and volunteer support.

DSCF5522At the MBC, as we learn more about each other’s specific systems we begin to explore teachings outside the confines of our own Schools and explore what we share and where we differ. I would like to think that what is happening is that instead of avoiding different practices as a threat, we are becoming confident enough to see the reality of what we often like to quote – ie – that the Buddha recognised the needs of different temperaments and so preached a huge amount of methods and paths. These cannot compete but complement each other and are intended to suit the needs of all who turn to Buddhism. The MBC offers an opportunity for us to come together as Buddhists. For me this is the single most important service that the MBC offers. The Dhamma/Dharma has taken wing and arrived in the West. This is our true inheritance. It is Ekayana – One Dhamma/Dharma.

Jaya Graves.

Manchester Buddhist Convention. 2014

First published in the Middle Way Vol 89, No. 3

www.thebuddhistsociety.org

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August 2014 Update by Jaya

This is a further update on the convention.

As you know the title has been shortened to:

 

Buddhism Today: Renewal and relevance

Responding to the challenges of our times.

 

By now you should have had Oxana’s poster and hopefully, you have forwarded it onto you various networks, centre members and other people who may be interested in the Convention. It will also be helpful if you can make a few copies and ask people to hand them out or put them in shops, centres, community groups who may be interested in this event.  This Convention needs to be seen as a shared project that we can all promote otherwise it will disappear. It’s quite a big undertaken for a group of six, some of whom are still working full-time and others of whom have multiple identities with various duties attached!

 

You will find a registration form on the website so please begin to register. Please note that there is a field that asks if you require food. This is important so as not to waste food – not a sustainable practice nor sensible for an event that runs on a shoestring and voluntary contributions in terms of time, food and other resources. We would like to see it remain that way.

In our last update we explained the reason for our choice of topic. If we stop to consider what is happening to our world, will see that we are beset with problems.

 

This is apparent in the world outside ourselves where we may think we have little control, in our own neighbourhoods as well as within ourselves.  This is the scenario. 

 

AvalokiteshvaraHowever the aim of the Convention is not to brood on the negativities that surround us and affect us – how can they not? – but to examine them; examine some of the actions that people are taking in response; and come up with ideas that people can take forward. We cannot change our environment entirely but we are not helpless and what we do together can magnify what we do individually or even as different centres..

 

The Convention will examine some examples of work that is taking place. Through discussion we will try and develop ideas that we can take forward to create healing in different contexts. There are already some ‘new shoots’ that are being examined; people working in different contexts with Buddhist/spiritual ideas. They will be presented at the Convention and participants may have ideas of how to take them forward.  There will also be themed discussion spaces for people to explore specific ideas that have come up over the years, or to suggest their own.

 

It is interesting to see how many people are interested in Buddhism and are happy to talk about it. On the other hand it is discouraging how many practices are being detached from their ethical and spiritual mooring and presented as mere activities to increase the ‘feel-good’ factor of our lives. This has happened to yoga, meditation and seems to be happening to ‘mindfulness’. (Perhaps some of you read Suzanne Moore’s article in the Guardian. If not – it might be interesting to check.)

 

There are, of course different notions of ‘doing’ among Buddhists. Some think that we have to ‘work on ourselves first’. There are others who believe that we have to do both together; that time is precious and the situation demands it.

 

These are some thoughts from a Buddhist (myself) from the other side of the globe. In countries where Buddhism is embedded in the community, there is no separation. In SE Asia, monks and nuns still go out to beg for food. They are entirely dependent on the community to survive. In return they teach, maybe run hospitals, schools and serve the old. There is a symbiotic relationship between them and the community in which they live. In India where there is a revival of Buddhism, it was considered a duty to give alms bhikkus and saddhus – not just those who belonged to one’s own spiritual system (sasana*) but to any mendicant. People would look out to give at least once a day. (A custom that is, unfortunately, receding with modernisation but it is still practiced to some extent.)

 

Sasana is the Sanskrit and Pali term for teaching, spiritual path or practice. I am choosing to use it because the term ‘tradition’ in English is redolent with something that belongs to the past and will not change. 

 

There will be one or two more updates in the weeks leading up to the Convention. Please also feel free to post your own material or ideas on the Website – it’s for discussion – but it’s a monologue at the moment.

 

Jaya – co-ordinator MBC

 

 

 

 

Manchester Buddhist Convention One Root Many Branches

 

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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