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Manchester Buddhist Convention 2015 – June Update

IndianBuddhismManchester Buddhist Convention 2015

 

The Manchester Buddhist Convention will take place as usual on the second Saturday of October at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy, Oxford Road, Manchester.

The theme for this years Convention is:

Buddhism in Action:
Peace in the Heart, Peace in the World.

This will be the tenth Convention held in Manchester. So we come to the end of a decade of meeting together as Buddhists from different lineages – a decade when we have gone some way in appreciating the richness of the path we share. We also hope that it has gone some way in increasing our understanding of the different paths, developing solidarity and intention to work together. This is also a decade that also seems to have been marked by an increase in tension and pain in the global context.

In response to this, some of us have been exploring ways in which we can work together to create links of service and giving to complement our inner practice. A group is coming together of explore this and I hope we will be able to present something at the convention.

Alongside this, we will of course, maintain our focus of practice and exploration of Dhamma/Dharma topics. More details of this will follow in the Update in August/September.

The PG also decided to organise smaller events between the large one in October so as not to lose the momentum of the Convention. We have run one event on ‘Mindfulness in the Secular Context’ at Triratna Buddhist Centre and one is planned for July 12th at the Dechen Centre in Chorlton. You should have received, or should be receiving, information about this very soon. These are in venues with smaller capacities, accommodating fewer people than the October Convention. Places are offered on the basis of those who apply first.

As you know the Convention is planned by a group of people on a voluntary basis. It is possible to present it as an event with no fixed charge because of the generosity of Chaplaincy. This year we have decided to offer them a nominal fee to the Chaplaincy but retain the basis of ‘Dana’ – free giving – for participants. The Convention cannot take place without this so you are asked to take this on board should you attend and give generously.

I know also that many Centres have undertaken expansion or are busy with their own lineages. I am therefore asking you to consider whether you, as individuals and as centres, wish to support the event and it’s work or whether you feel it has done it’s work and for the time being and can rest for the next few years or if there is another configuration you think would be more suitable. Do you think that an event or a process that enables us to meet together as Buddhists and Buddhism without ‘boundaries’ is a useful one for the future? If so is this a useful approach to the next few years?

For instance:

  • Should it just concentrate on smaller events?
  • Should it concentrate on bringing people together for shared practice?
  • For action?
  • For visits to different Centres?
  • Or any other types of meetings or activities?

It is likely that some of the activities outlined above will go on whether or not the Convention continues in its present for.

These are things you may have to consider at the Convention so please give it some thought. You should also give some thought to the logistics of it – ie- what can we; collectively do to make it happen?

 

One         root         Many       Branches

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Second letter of invitation to Dechen Centre, Sunday 12th July

tibetanbuddhismDear Friends,

I have already sent you information with regard to a second MBC event to be held at the Dechen Centre on Sunday 12th July.  If you have responded and you receive this please ignore it. If not please let me know if you are interested asap.

I will contact those who wish to attend with the address nearer the day.

We need notification in order to prepare lunch for which we will request a Donation to cover costs.

Below is a short outline of the day:

12.30 Arrive & lunch

1.30  Welcome

1.45 short meditation led by a venerable, following this an introduction to lojong

2.45 Break & discussion session.

3.15 Led meditation on lojong

4.00 Discussion & feedback

4.30/5.00 Dedication and Finish

Lojong or mind training is a comprehensive practice that is suitable for all types of students. It contains the entire path and does not depend on a person’s background. Lojong nourishes and cultivates the Buddha Nature, the pure seed of awakening that is at the very heart of all beings.  It has the power to transform even self clinging into selflessness.

The day will be a mixture of practice and discussion.

We will find time to decide if we wish to continue with the process begun with the ‘Mindfulness in the West’ event held at Triratna in April.

Dharma/Dhamma greetings,

Jaya – Co-coordinator MBC

Challenges to Mindfulness Practice in the West: event on 11 April 2015

For some years now, the planning group of the Manchester Buddhist Convention (MBC) have felt that we should aim to do smaller events between the large Conventions in October.

 

This year we finally decided to put this into practice. The first of these was held on the above theme on April 11th 2015, at Triratna Buddhist Centre, Turner Street.

 

WomanMeditatingThere were two broad aims to the event:

  1. To explore Mindfulness practice in secular and meditative contexts.
  2. To bring different lineages together.

 

As we expected to hold the event in the smaller of the two shrine rooms we limited the numbers to 25 and decided to invite Dharma centres to nominate two people to attend.
This is a short Report on the event:

The event began with introductions, welcome, saluting the shrine and sitting practice. This was followed by two presentations, both by Buddhist practitioners one of whom offered Mindfulness training in a Buddhist context and the other who worked within the NHS.

 

Both presenters were informed by their particular practices and the contexts in which they worked. The material covered a lot of ground – from the ‘religion’ to aspects of Buddhism from different perspectives; the 8 week stress reduction course courses taught by and the different working contexts of the two speakers – ie – in a Buddhist Dharma Centre and the NHS where any mention of a spiritual framework was taboo. Results had to be ‘evidence based’ and benefits demonstrable. One of the presentations suggested that ‘Mindfulness training could be likened to Padmasambhava taming the demons when he went to Tibet (can be looked up on the net). By contrast the other described the demons that might beset a client when s/he came for treatment and showed how it might soothe a distressed person even for a short time – so two quite different presentations. This presentation suggested that a not very creative tension existed between the evidence-based demands of a clinical context and trusting our own inner experience – integral to Buddhist practice.

She described her work as ‘harmonising the mind with the body, rather than the other way round.’ ‘Making mindfulness accessible to mentally ill people.’ Helping them to ‘accept themselves’.

 

The group broke into small groups. These are some of the questions/points raised:

  • Is secular mindfulness the same as Buddhist Mindfulness practice?
  • The value of secular Buddhism is dependent on the quality of the teacher.
  • Secular mindfulness is better coming from a Buddhist teacher.
  • Buddhists are being too precious/possessive about ‘Mindfulness’.
  • The need for an ethical framework was indicated.
  • The need for transmission from a qualified teacher.
  • Were grand claims being made for limited results in the clinical context?
  • The use of Mindfulness training in other contexts was raised – in industry, schools, even within the US army. A comparison with the use of it among the Samurai was made in one group.
  • The Buddha’s teachings were not complicated but were they losing this simplicity and directness through cultural accretion?
  • ‘Challenges’ faced by Buddhism were not necessarily ‘cultural’ (Western) but the challenge of ‘modernity’ Buddhism has changed its presentation without losing its integrity over hundreds of years.
  • What might our questions be if we reversed the question to consider how Buddhism challenges our ‘modern’ cultural and given assumptions.
  • The possibility of losing lineage, transmission, diluting the Buddhadharma, eventually leading to losing it.
  • Not going far enough – ie- it will teach us how to ‘manage’ samsara but will not address how Awaken. Does this mean that we just learn how to function better in a corrupt society?
  • Can it help managers, for instance, to exploit people better? *

 

The other aim was to bring Buddhists of different lineages together? Why?

 

This was one of the main purposes of the MBC and most groups are keen. The October event is evidence that most Buddhists really do enjoy this engagement. Despite this, over the years of organising this event and speaking with different individuals it has become clear that there is a historical residue of historical suspicion. Some of this may be lineage based and some specific to Manchester. This weakens our potential and opens us to accusations of ‘sectarianism’. Facing our differences may be the one powerful thing we can do to ensure that the Buddhadhamma/dharma is made secure from ‘threats’ it may face. The Planning group has begun to reflect on this; to ‘own’ our ‘baggage’ and admit its existence. It aims to create trust in which to embed our practice and group and would like this to happen in a wider context – hence this event. This worked remarkable well. In a small group of 28 people there were at least 6 different lineages all absorbed in conversation and really engaging with each other.

 

We also wanted to explore ways in which we could work together as an inter-lineage group. Related to this are these comments from attendees:

  • The Annual Convention was exciting but it was good to be able to meet Buddhists from different lineages in a smaller, more intimate context.
  • The event was ‘therapeutic.’
  • There are not many inter-lineage networks like this one.
  • It captured the energy obvious at the Convention.

 

Some parallel observations:

 

  • The use of the breath and of sound is, or course, ancient and pre-dates Buddhism by millennia.
  • There is a blurring of the edges of what meditation has been used for; suggestion that it is not especially linked to spiritual practice.
  • Secular ‘mindfulness’ is here to stay. What can we do to harness it for the best possible use and mitigate its misuse (which appears to be happening alongside the relief it brings to suffering).

 

Once again, interest in what Buddhists could do in relation to service emerged. There was a huge fund of experience and action based initiatives in the room. We are exploring these and will keep you informed of what is happening either via the Website or at the Convention. If you are interested in the possibilities or have ideas or are involved in such initiatives please get in touch with us via the Website of with me directly.

 

A further event is planned for July. Again numbers will be limited due to space. If you are interested please inform your Dharma Centre or contact us directly.

 

Jaya – Co-ordinator, Manchester Buddhist Convention.

 

Poster for Manchester Buddhist Convention 2015

Click here to download the poster as PDF

MBC 2015 poster draft

Manchester Buddhist Convention 2015

DSC04981Friends:

 

This is the first notice about the Manchester Buddhist Convention.

 

This will take place, as usual, on the second Sat. of October, (Oct.10th) at St. Peter’s Chaplaincy on Oxford Road. Please can you put it in your diaries. We have not decided on themes, format etc but will keep you updated. As you know this is the 10 anniversary of the founding of the MBC.

 

You may be interested to know that we have begun to have smaller events between the large ones in October. These will have dual aims: to learn about a particular theme and to learn about other lineages (which is, of course, one of the aims of the Convention). The first of these took place at Triratna Buddhist Centre on Turner Street on the theme of ‘Mindfulness in the West’. Space was limited so we invited Centres to send two people to these. If you are interested in the event or the Report, please let us know via the website email address.

 

The second one will take place at the Dechen Centre in Chorlton. Further information will be sent as we plan it. Again, this will be subject to space.

 

Many thanks,

 

Jaya Graves (Co-ordinator, Manchester Buddhist Convention)

 

Photos from MBC 2014

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge photos

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

 

 

 

 

 

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