Booking is now open for the 2019 Triratna International Gathering which will take place at Adhisthana, UK, from 22-26 August! This biennial event brings together large numbers of the Triratna Buddhist Community from around Europe for a feast of inspiration, stimulation and fun. All are welcome, including children.
The theme of the 2019 gathering is ‘Alchemy of the Dharma’. Alchemy is the magical art of turning base materials into gold, a potent metaphor for what we are trying to do in our Dharma lives. How do we transform the ‘base material’ of ourselves, our spiritual community, and the wider society into ‘gold’, into ‘personal’ riches, shared riches and the sustaining riches of loving wisdom?
The programme is still being finalised but here are the details so far:
- Transforming Self - Ratnaguna
- Transforming Through Sangha - Sanghamani
- Transforming World - Prasadacarin
Short talks about the transformative power of the Dharma in Latin America and India
Event on Bhante as Alchemist (by Maitreyabandhu and others)
Study with Saccanama
Various workshops such as:
Batik - Akashalila
Blake - Satyalila and Ratnaprabha
Meditation - Vajraloka team
Mindful communication - Jayaraja
Philosophy - Vidyaruci
Writing - Satyalila and others
Activities for kids
Chai and pancakes stall - Buddhafield
Storytelling - Jayaraja and Lokabandhu
+Follow the International Gathering space to stay updated on all the latest details
Since announcing the project in Triratna News last September, the project to develop Buddhist cohousing in Cambridge, the Suvana Cohousing Project, has continued to gain momentum.
Their vision is to build a new type of community, where 20-30 households create a beautiful place with a mixture of dwelling types all benefiting from shared facilities and minimal impact on the earth’s resources.
Although they have yet to find a development site, the group of Order Members and Mitras who are involved in the Suvana cohousing project have secured the public support of the local MP, been awarded a small grant to help develop their plans, made a pre-application in relation to a specific site, held two full day workshops, toured a new cohousing site, surveyed the membership, launched a website, received local media coverage and attracted new members. Alongside all this, a new member has written about their experience of coming to their first meeting.
Read more on the Suvana Cohousing blog.
“We’ve found at our workshops and meetings there’s been wonderful light-hearted and creative atmosphere, with everybody fully engaged, exemplifying the communal effort and open communication that we wanted to foster with Suvana.” says Jeremy Peters, one of the Board members.
“And what has been so encouraging was just how in tune we all are, really sharing our core values in a way that bodes well for the future – it really feels like we are creating something special!”
If you see yourself being part of a community of Triratna people creating their own living environment, you can join as a member. You can keep up to date through the Suvana Cohousing blog or Instagram @suvanacam.
Karuna has contributed to a new report just launched by a group of NGOs. The report has found that caste and other forms of “discrimination based on work and descent” (DWD) continues to be a barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the UN in 2015. This form of discrimination occurs in at least 20 countries and is often associated with slavery.
Karuna was established in 1980 by members of Triratna and exists to end caste-based discrimination, poverty and inequality in India and Nepal. The charity aims to exemplify engaged buddhist practice, focusing on education, dignified livelihoods and gender equality, transforming communities and changing society. Many people within Triratna, particularly our Order in India, come from backgrounds that have been marked by caste-based discrimination. Karuna is proud to have collaborated with other leading NGOs to highlight this important issue within the development sector.
The report finds that caste in particular remains a significant cause of inequality in modern economies. It highlights how development and humanitarian responses often fail to recognise caste-based social exclusion and the vulnerabilities that result. This is especially prevalent during aid responses to disasters which may, if poorly designed, overlook or fail to meet the needs of the most marginalised caste groups.
The report calls for caste-sensitive approaches to achieve the SDG targets and is based on evidence from South Asian countries where caste-based disparities are strongly prevalent.
One of the main authors, Murali Shanmugavelan, writes “Caste remains a source for physical and sexual violence, poverty and hunger, exploitation, lack of access to drinking water and sanitation, social and economic inequalities and lack of opportunities in urban labour markets. This report shows why caste deserves the same level of policy attention as race, ethnicity and gender, especially when caste is bound with other identities and reinforces barriers and inequalities.”
Through a network of 40 partner organisations Karuna reaches approximately 75,000 people every year. Karuna is a Buddhist Team Based Right Livelihood, and if you are interested in their work or want to get involved visit their appeals website or get in touch with their London office +44 2077003434.
Sikkha is the name of a project overseen by Triratna’s International Council. Its aims are to support the development of training within Triratna for every level of experience, to discover and share how the different elements of our system are taught and practiced most effectively, and to create resources and training to fill any gaps.
The Sikkha website is now open to all. Here you will find some recommended introductory courses - including a newly published course from Sheffield called ‘Vision and Transformation’. For each course there are weekly teacher’s notes, a short video introducing the theme for the week and a talk as it was presented during a course. All of the course material has been produced in order to resource Centres and teachers with material to stimulate and support their dharma teaching.
There are many further plans in the pipeline for the Sikkha project in the coming months. If you teach at a Buddhist Centre look out for second phase centre teaching materials - for between newcomers courses and mitra study - that will be developed this year.
FutureDharma Fund has published their first annual report detailing all the projects worldwide - from India, mainland Europe, Americas and into Australia and New Zealand - that they are making possible. FutureDharma Fund was established in 2016 to raise funds to help the Triratna Buddhist Community reach more and more people as we move into our next 50 years.
Last year some 500 people gave £274,000 to support 35 projects around the world - projects such as supporting a part-time Young Buddhist Co-ordinator in Australia and New Zealand, a month long International Course in Adhisthana for those in positions of responsibility in Triratna, as well as helping Sanghas in Venezuela, Poland and India to grow and develop and more besides.
On Tuesday 5th March just over 30 Sangha members, including Vajrajyoti from Auckland and Shamani from Christchurch, crowded into the old Wellington Buddhist Centre reception to ritually mark their move to a new Centre. The move is an important one for the development of the Wellington Sangha - even if it is only 3 metres across the hallway - as it is into a space twice the size, and infinitely more functional, than the current space.
The final move is still a few weeks away as there are some last things to do in order to get the space ready, but the dedication ceremony was a significant milestone along the way.
Saradarshini, the chair of the Wellington Buddhist Centre, outlines the evening and explains how the move came about:-
We’ve been here for 6 years, moving in after a period of homelessness. This space has served us well and we’ve certainly occupied it as fully as we can and found creative ways of working around ill-placed pillars, lack of a separate shrine room, poor heating and cooling and proximity to a lot of activity with accompanying noise (necessarily noisy neighbours as they go about their business, panel beating, beer brewing and such like).
As we’ve grown in both numbers and activity there has been contention for space and at times it has been quite uncomfortable in here. So it is with appreciation and some relief, we begin our transition into this new space.
The idea to move came seriously into focus late 2017, prior to that a few of us had been keeping our eyes open and investigating financially unrealistic spaces, such as the old Paramount cinema on Courtenay place.
All the Sangha was invited to talk about what they wanted to do and at some point, it occurred to us to look at renting the whole of the space at the back of this building which is about twice the size of where we are now. Some of us started looking in there when we were at the Centre, listing all the disadvantages, but at the same time noticing how quiet it was, how much cooler it was in summer, how much warmer it was in winter and we began to wonder if there might be a way.
We drafted a plan and checked we could afford to rent it and went through our refit requirements with the landlord and his builder and it all seemed very feasible. Then Asangamati improved on our draft turning what would be very functional to something that was quite beautiful and inspirational. We are having a special shrine wall built by Trace in addition to the fit out. We negotiated the refit agreement and the new lease and in July 2018 all was agreed, meaning we were ready to move in as soon as the refit was complete.
Saradarshini thanked everyone who had been involved directly and indirectly and pointed out that it has taken the involvement and commitment of the whole Sangha in making this happen.
Achala, the original founder of the Wellington Buddhist centre 40 years ago, spoke of the importance of the dedication ceremony and two greetings were read: one from Nagabodhi, the current President of the Wellington Buddhist Centre, and the other from Jnanadhara, their future President.
Then the ritual dedication, led by Achala, began. We all followed him into our current shrine room, and saluted the shrine, and Suryagita led us in the Maitri Mantra. Then the Chair and the two Mitra Convenors took the 3 traditional offerings from the shrine and everyone else collected a cushion as a symbol of their dharma practice and we processed behind Achala into the new shrine room. After saluting the heart stoppingly beautiful new shrine Saradarshini, Asangamati and Achalamuni made the 3 traditional offerings. The WBC Dharma Singers offered a setting of the “118 Parables of Bodhicitta” composed by Suryagita and the Avatamsaka Sutra also set to music by Suryagita. After the dedication ceremony led by Achala, we all made offerings while chanting the Avalokiteshvara mantra and concluded with a period of just sitting.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, the Triratna Women project are launching their own space on The Buddhist Centre Online! This project has been a number of years in the planning so it is very exciting that it is finally out there.
It started as a direct response to the deaths of Vajragita in 2014 and Anjali in 2015. Danasamudra, one of the project coordinators, had been aware for some time of the need to record the experience of women in Triratna, especially those who were around in the early days. She had often thought that it was important to interview Anjali and Vajragita but unfortunately it never happened. It became essential that we didn’t lose any more important stories.
The Triratna Women project aims to learn from the early development of the Triratna Buddhist movement and Order, hear about the experiences of being a mother, of committing one’s life to fully serving the Order, of living in our current society as a full-time Dharma practitioner. These voices can inspire future generations of women to connect with Sangharakshita’s radical vision.
In 2017 Triratna’s Adhisthana kula undertook to offer training in ‘Restorative’ practice within Triratna, as part of a process of learning to go deeper with difficult conversations and revisiting and learning further from past mistakes.
Read more about the restorative process
“Restorative” practice, or process, is a methodology that can be used in many situations “to prevent conflict, build relationships and repair harm by enabling people to communicate effectively and positively”. Having developed from a process used in the criminal justice system it has been successfully adapted for many other situations including schools, children’s services, workplaces, hospitals and communities.
In February, Shantigarbha (member of the Restorative Pilot Project coordinating group) met with Karmavajra (Indian Order Convenor), Kumarjeev (ex- NVC trainer), Abhayadana (Women’s GFR team member), Anomasura and Vidyavardhini (Young Buddhists coordinators) for a five-day training in Restorative Circles at Bordharan retreat centre, near Nagpur in India. Amrutdeep, the Indian Public Preceptor who initiated this project, was unable to attend due to illness.
On the training they explored the difference between restorative and punitive approaches, their conflict history, the conditions for a restorative approach to emerge, the Restorative Circles process, host self-care, and transforming enemy images. Shantigarbha demonstrated by hosting a live conflict, and coached participants to host a semi-simulated circle. Finally they looked at the conditions for setting up a restorative system.
On the last day, all participants agreed to go forward as the Indian Restorative Pilot Project and selected Karmavajra as their coordinator. Kumarjeev offered ongoing mentoring to other members of the team. Shantigarbha handed over to Karmavajra and offered to be the link person with the UK Pilot Project. The Indian project team agreed to this and Amrutdeep gave his blessing by telephone to the developments.
I also got confidence that conflict is natural, and that we can resolve it. There is Samsara, so there will be conflict. We have Dharma practice, and now we have restorative dialogue to support us, so this has helped me to shift my approach. We can deal with any situation.
In India the Restorative Pilot Project will definitely help us with situations where there is no clarity, for instance who will be Chair of a Trust, and so on. It will help us to develop a wider approach, not to fall into a punitive approach. In the Sangha we believe that everyone has the same goal. But sometimes we miss our goal, or we fall down, so it will help us to uplift our consciousness.
We are pleased to announce the recent ordination celebrated at Adhisthana on Thursday 28th February 2019. Helen Rey from the Seattle Sangha becomes Prasadadhi (long second ‘a’ and long ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning ‘She whose Wisdom is clear, bright, pure.’ Punyamala was both Private and Public Preceptor. 🎉
Other recent ordinations from around the Triratna world include Joy Fratelle from Port Fairy who was publicly ordained at Melbourne Buddhist Centre on Saturday 23rd February 2019. Joy becomes Maitrībodhinī (sixth and last letter both long ī). Her name means ‘She whose awakening is through kindness.’ Her Public Preceptor was Megha and her Private Preceptor was Maitripala.
On December 15, Jamie Ward was publicly ordained at Dhanakosa, UK, and becomes Maitrivira: ‘Loving, Kindly, Benevolent Hero’. His Private Preceptor was Amoghavira and Dhammarati was the Public Preceptor.
On December 9, Valerie Mark was ordained by Dharmacarini Megha for both the Private and Public ordination ceremony. Val becomes Ujuka (with a long ‘a’) which means ‘She who is straightforward, direct, honest and principled.’
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
Five friends and artists who all go to the Wellington Buddhist Centre in New Zealand have just been having their second exhibition together. The artists are: Kathleen Beeler, Amalaratna, David Litchfield, Anne Munz and Achalamuni (Donald Woolford).
The name they have used for their exhibition, Dharma-Rama, is a made up one.
Achalamuni explains the origin of the name and the significance of working together: “‘Dharma’ is obvious, but the ‘Rama’ part comes not from Pali or Sanskrit but from words such as panorama and has the sense of surrounding. And the two words sounded good together.
We are a diverse group of people who use different art media and styles and whose work in this exhibition looks very different, but we are all united in a common commitment to spiritual practice and the support of one another through the Wellington Buddhist Centre.
Working together as a group for the exhibition is certainly an opportunity to practice friendship. There are numerous questions to be worked through – who should have which areas in the gallery, what publicity is needed, and what costs we can afford. But although we have our own separate spaces in the gallery for our art, we worked together to help each other set up, from hanging the art to printing the labels.”
Here they each describe their art and its connection with their Buddhist practice:
“My Buddhist practice of awareness involves being open to how my art will turn out and not trying to force the outcome. I maintain equanimity if the painting process doesn’t go as hoped and I just start again with a new version if necessary.” - Amalaratna“I have tried to create lines that don’t have obvious shapes or regular patterns. I have also tried to escape from repetitive patterns and marks, and to be creative rather than reactive.” - Achalamuni
“I try to use my art to open myself to the world and to try to shape how I deal with it.” - David
“Sometimes when I am taking a photograph or filming, I enter a state of dhyana. When I look through the lens, I enter another world. I appreciate Triratna because it includes the arts in practice.” - Kathleen
“I have painted in oils all my life; but since I became a Buddhist I have felt a serenity which I hope is reflected in my art.” - Anne
The Wellington Buddhist Centre have just launched a new blog on The Buddhist Centre Online!
In order to build on the already vibrant Young Buddhist activities in Australia and New Zealand, Future Dharma are now supporting a Triratna Young Buddhist Coordinator for the entire Area for 2 days per week. Dhammakumāra, currently Triratna’s youngest Order member, moved from the UK to take up this role in August 2018.
Dhammakumāra is currently based in Sydney but travels to other centres in Australia and New Zealand quite often. Here he explains a bit about the role and what he’s been up to so far.
Why did you take on the role of Young Buddhist Coordinator in Australia and New Zealand?
I didn’t really move for the role. I had been wanting to leave the UK and see a bit more of the world. I had found myself in Sydney because an Dharmachari here, Dharmalata, had posted on The Buddhist Centre Online offering any Order members wanting to visit a place to stay in Sydney for 6 weeks, which I had taken him up on. When I came here, I quickly fell in love with this side of the world and decided I wanted to stay a while. So the decision to move across the world came first. There’s been loads of excellent work for Young People’s activities already in the region, and really amazing people at each centre - so it’s not, by any stretch, like someone from outside needed to come in.
After I was ordained (in September 2017) I almost immediately felt like I wanted to do more for our movement - to give back to what had given me so much. The opportunity to work in an international role seemed like a good step in that direction!
And it just so happened that while I was in Sydney was when they were conducting the interviews [for the Young Buddhist Coordinator role], so it seemed too perfect to not apply! Future Dharma Fund has provided funding for the first year, and the hope is that they will be able to extend that to a second year.
Given that it’s a part-time role how do you support yourself?
I’m a software programmer. I do most of my work as a contractor for a company based out in the US, so I work from home and so have the ability to do that anywhere in the world. This is pretty ideal to supplement the part-time role as I have the flexibility to be able to travel around while still being able to look after myself financially.
What kinds of things have you been involved in?
In November I was at a ‘Coming Home to Freedom’ retreat with the Melbourne Young Buddhists. It was a great retreat: we had 15 young people ranging from 17 to 35(ish) years old - 9 men and 6 women - plus myself and Itir (a Mitra who has asked for ordination) who co-led with me. For several of the attendees it was their first retreat. One of the things that really struck me on the retreat was the depth of practice that already existed for the Young People on the retreat, even those quite new.
In early January I was on a long weekend retreat at Sudarshanaloka in New Zealand on the theme ‘Mettā as Insight’. We had 11 attendees, mostly from Auckland - but we also had one person fly up from Wellington, and a Mitra who asked for ordination from Spain who is currently travelling in New Zealand also flew up from the South Island to join us. The retreat was a huge success and I am confident that many of the attendees will be taking their commitment deeper off the back of it.
There is a dramatic difference in scenery between the Australia and the New Zealand landscapes. This was my second visit to Sudarshanaloka, and I am particularly taken by its beauty. (Any Order Member who hasn’t visited should definitely aim to do so - they have especially excellent solitary facilities which are particularly well suited for longer solitary retreats.)
I’ve also been involved in activities with the Adelaide Sangha, co-leading a retreat for young people from the Auckland Sangha and in April I’ll be heading back to Melbourne to lead a men’s retreat.
At the end of April/beginning of May we are having the Australia/New Zealand Region Area Council Meeting, followed by the Order Convention at Vijayaloka. In between these two events, the Area Council is planning to bring together some key people in the region (all the Chairs, the Public Preceptors, etc.) which I will be attending as part of my role. In June I’m planning to have an Australia/New Zealand equivalent of the Big One [a gathering for young Buddhists that takes place annually in the UK].
So they’re keeping me busy!
Has there been anything particular that has struck you in your work so far?
There’s a lot I could say! I think there is much more similarities than differences. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the unity in our Order, but going to different countries and meeting people practicing in fundamentally the same way oneself… there’s something quite magical about it.
The main difference is of course there are much less Centres (4 Centres plus smaller groups), so there’s much more direct interaction with each one than similar work would entail in the UK. Secondly, they’re very spread out from each other - so one can feel a bit isolated, and the majority of the Order seems very far away. Back in the UK, I would go to Padmaloka for weekends, or go visit friends in the Order in other cities - but here that broader sense of the Order is a bit harder to maintain.
Here’s an interesting initiative: Pujas with Altitude! It’s a chance to climb Snowdon, the highest mountain in the UK, take part in three pujas - on lake, hill and ancient woodland - as well as raise money for Taraloka, in particular, to help build an ‘Earth-Sky’ Garden.
Animisha is one person who has accepted this challenge! She writes: “Taraloka has been an important retreat centre for women to be able to come together to practice. It was the first retreat centre I went to and I have been back several times over the years. The old concrete stand just outside the shrine room is not the most beautiful part of Taraloka so it will be great if they can transform that space, especially if they can make it accessible to all.”
This sponsored challenge will help raise funds for Taraloka’s major project for 2019: the Earth-Sky Garden, transforming the area outside the shrine room windows, making it an accessible as well as a sacred space for all.
In December the Bristol Buddhist Centre hosted a practice morning on the theme ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’. The event offered a space for the Sangha to come together to explore thoughts and feelings around the climate emergency, how Dharma practice helps with facing the reality of the situation, and what ‘taking action’ might look like in this context. This was followed by an action outside Barclays bank in the afternoon with meditation, leafletting and singing ‘climate carols.’
Listen to the guided meditation and talks from this event
Read more about the Triratna Global Emergency Initiative and get involved!
Amrtanadi was one of those involved in this event. Here is an interview with her about her involvement in climate activism, the event that took place in Bristol, and what she thinks the Dharma can bring to the table.
Do you have a background in activism?
One of the strongest guiding principles in my practice of the Dharma is my desire to live from love and to avoid causing harm. Making choices that minimise the harm I cause through contributing to climate change has been important to me for a long time - for example, around transport and where my food comes from.
But I’d never taken that further into collective action or activism - in part, because I didn’t quite know where to put my energy, and perhaps also because of a feeling of powerlessness, not having a clear sense of what I could do that might make a difference beyond my own individual ethical choices. I think this is a common response in the face of such a massive, complex and emotive issue as climate change. I very often hear from other people that there is nothing we can do, it’s all much bigger than us, a kind of collective sense of disempowerment, together I think with the emotional overwhelm that can quite easily arise when we try to take in the enormity of the situation that we face.
Something really changed for me when the latest IPCC report came out in at the beginning of October of last year which stated, in much more urgent terms than I had heard before, the need for us to act now. What really affected me about the report was the almost deafening silence that greeted it in the mainstream media, and life carrying on all around me as usual. I think it really sank in to me at that point just how much we really can’t take in what is happening and what the climate emergency calls on us to do. The group Extinction Rebellion (XR) rose out of this time, calling for mass civil disobedience to try and force the issue more into public consciousness and to make the government take notice and take action, spelling out in black and white the reality of the situation that we are facing: the potential extinction of much life on earth and a real threat to human survival. This felt like a much more real and congruent response to the IPCC report than the business as usual life I saw going on all around me.
I also began reflecting a lot on what it means to be a practicing Buddhist in this time, and what part we, as a Sangha, and as part of the larger faith community might play - and, perhaps, have a responsibility to play - in raising awareness and being part of the collective change that must happen.
I saw clearly that focusing on individual ethical actions is not enough in the face of the urgency of our need to act. It wasn’t that my, and our, individual actions and choices didn’t now matter - they do. But my perspective on my practice of the first precept, my sense of what it means to practice non-harm and take loving action for the benefit of all beings in this age of climate breakdown, expanded and deepened. It felt clear that this must include engagement with collective action directed to raising awareness and to systemic change to try and bring about the dramatic and urgent reductions in carbon emissions now needed.
So, from never having taken part in any activism, apart from a march or two over the years, I quickly found myself involved in many actions and events with Extinction Rebellion and the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE). It felt so helpful and important for me to make connections with others who are also in touch with the reality of the situation, to have a context to share our feelings, to be able to express them through positive action, and to experience a strong sense of solidarity and empowerment through coming together.
Who organised the ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’ event in Bristol and what was its purpose?
My friend Dayajoti, who has been involved with Buddhafield for many years, and I were talking about the IPCC report, Extinction Rebellion and activism on the way up to Bhante’s funeral and the idea to run an event at the Bristol Buddhist Centre came out of that conversation. We knew that many people had been affected by the report and wanted to offer a space where the Sangha could come together to share thoughts and feelings around the climate emergency, how our Dharma practice might help us engage and face the reality of the situation, and explore taking action as a part of our practice.
We asked Rowan, who is a Mitra who has asked for ordination with the Oxford Sangha, to join us and give one of the talks. Rowan has been very involved with XR and DANCE and activism around the climate emergency is an integral part of her going for refuge and expression of the Bodhisattva ideal. We also asked Taranita to give one of the talks, who had also been at an XR event I was at in Bristol, Beth, who had also become involved with XR, and Amaragita who has been involved with Buddhafield and activism for a number of years.
This was the first recent Sangha event exploring the issue – though we did run BAM (Buddhist Action Month) at the Bristol Buddhist Centre in 2015 on the theme of climate change. The climate emergency will also be the theme for this year’s BAM. Both Dayajoti and I are away from Bristol for 3 months until the spring so haven’t been able to run any follow on events, but hope to pick up some momentum again with BAM in June and will see if anything more ongoing may emerge from that.
What happened during ‘The Three Jewels Meet the Climate Emergency’ event?
We began with Dayajoti leading a guided meditative reflection in the shrine room, inviting us to allow the issue into our hearts and notice our response. Myself, Rowan and Taranita then gave short personal talks on the climate emergency. We had space in small groups and then as a whole group to share anything that we wanted to in response, and ended in the shrine room chanting the Bodhicitta mantra together and transferring our merits.
Around 25 people came to the event. I was deeply moved by everyone’s honest sharing of their responses to the climate emergency itself and to the morning’s input. People shared their fears around the situation, sense of overwhelm and not quite knowing what they could do, but also hope, energy and enthusiasm to take action, a sense of empowerment, and a desire to try and stay open to the situation and to support one other in this. It felt that there was a strong sense of solidarity in the simple act of our coming together to engage with the issue with honesty and courage. Something in this that felt very significant, meaningful and necessary for all of us there.
Some of us helped organise a separate action after the morning event at the centre under the DANCE umbrella. DANCE and other groups, including Greenpeace, have been holding actions calling on Barclays Bank to divest from fossil fuel projects and companies for some time. Our action involved a sitting mediation protest outside the main branch of Barclays in Bristol and singing ‘climate carols’, with posters calling on Barclays to wake up to the climate emergency and divest from fossil fuel projects. We gave leaflets and explained the issue to members of the public who were interested in what we were doing. Around 10 of us took part in the action, and there was a collective sense of it being helpful and important to take the energy of our contemplative and discursive morning into action on the streets. I found it particularly meaningful to be involved in helping to raise awareness with members of the public - many people I talked to expressed gratitude and support for what we were doing.
What do you think the Dharma can bring to climate activism?
I think the Dharma can help us to try and make some sense of the climate emergency and our collective inability to really know its truth and take action. The Buddha named the roots of our own personal suffering as greed, hatred and delusion and, as well as manifesting in us individually, these roots will of course manifest in the structures, systems, behaviours and values of the societies and cultures we create collectively.
Delusion at heart is ignorance of our interconnectedness. We are intimately interconnected with the earth, her living systems and the other species and human beings we share this beautiful planet with. Our actions have consequences throughout the web of life, and these consequences are becoming increasingly destructive and dangerous to life on this earth. However, our belief that we are separate, autonomous selves is much more alive and real to us, and individually and collectively, we don’t live from this place of deep interconnectedness.
This not seeing, this ignorance, is, of course, basic Buddhism. It is perpetuated by our tendency to pull towards us that which makes us feel real and secure. This is the same pull that drives the entire, deeply damaging, consumer culture that we are part of, and also leads us to hold on to the normality of business as usual, the belief that ‘perhaps climate change isn’t real after all’, or ‘it won’t affect me and what I love’.
And, we’ll also push away that which threatens us or our sense of self, which in relation to climate change may include the unease and fear that all of us must surely on some level feel, the reality that our way of life must and will radically change, as well as our pain and grief about the situation.
Knowing the depths of the roots of the poisons in myself helps me to understand the very surreal situation of ‘business as usual’ and helps me to avoid falling into judgement, anger and blame around what is happening to our planet and our collective inaction. And I think that the reality of the climate emergency can be an urgent, potent and positive ethical challenge to wake ourselves up more and more to the reality of our own interconnectedness and to our delusions. We are not separate to the collective karma that has created the situation we are in, nor to what we collectively are called to do.
This understanding and perspective is something that the Dharma and we, as practicing Buddhists, can bring into climate conversations and actions to help guard against the danger of polarisation. Hopefully we can also bring awareness of our own motivations and views and a commitment to try to act from loving-kindness and in a way that supports harmony and understanding. It’s so easy to fall into seeing, for example, politicians, fracking or oil company executives, or people who seem to act as if they don’t care about climate change as ‘other’ than us, to see the problem as ‘out there’ and to set ourselves apart, taking ourselves out of the web of interconnectedness; in short re-creating and perpetuating the very tendencies that have led to this situation in the first place.
The Metta Bhavana can be a fantastic tool for helping to guard against this, something we can take into our actions and offer to others. I introduced the practice at a day in London organised by DANCE to support XR activists, including how it can help us to avoid falling into polarisation - as well as helping us to remember self-care - as we try to hold the reality of the situation we are in and take action. The response was very positive and affirming, with people expressing how important they felt it was to have tools to support them in this way.
Our practices and the teachings of the Dharma can help us and others stay open and in touch with the the climate emergency and all the feelings that that may bring up for us, whether that might be grief, anger, fear, despondency, complacency or something else. From my own experience, it can be very hard to stay open, and not to fall into overwhelm or shut down. What we are called on to do, to hold in our hearts and minds, in this era of climate breakdown is huge. I feel an important part of what is needed is to grow our collective capacity to stay open, to stay engaged, to stay in touch with the reality and with each other as we face it. All of the practices that help us stay centred, positive, open-hearted, resilient, in touch with the beauty of life and our gratitude for what we have, and open to a bigger perspective are an essential part of this. And, of course, we need to do this together, in open, supportive communication and solidarity with others.
33 young people from Wardha, India, recently made a commitment to follow the Buddhist path in the context of the Triratna Buddhist Community during a Dhammamitra Diksha Ceremony. More than 500 people were present to witness the public declaration they made of their ‘Going for Refuge’ to the Three Jewels. Here is a short video by Triratna India Media about this event.
Triratna India Media is inspired by the radical vision of Dr B. R. Ambedkar, and the practical teachings of Urgyen Sangharakshita and produces documentaries, interviews and talks (in Hindi, Marathi, English and other Indian languages) as well as news clips on what is happening today in the Triratna Community in India.
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Mindfulness practices are spreading across western societies, prompting widespread interest as well as challenges from Buddhists and critics. Behind these discussions is the question: can mindfulness be a force for change in society, and if so, what are the risks for Buddhism and for society?
Vishvapani is very involved in these discussions in the UK. He teaches mindfulness in Cardiff, is the Wales Director of The Mindfulness Initiative (an advocacy group that promotes mindfulness to policy makers) and is a leader in taking mindfulness into the Criminal Justice system. Over the last year he’s been engaging in these debates across the UK. He writes of his recent endeavours in this area:-
“How The Light Gets In is a ‘Festival of Philosophy and Ideas’ that runs concurrently with the Literary Festival in Hay-on-Wye in the Welsh Borders. For two days in May 2018 I mingled with the thinkers and participated in several events themed around mindfulness.
The debate, At One With Ourselves, pitted me as an advocate of mindfulness practice against Miguel Farias, a psychologist and author of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? who thinks its benefits have been overstated, while Sociology Professor Linda Woodhead commented on the discussion from a non-aligned perspective.
Miguel challenges the claim that mindfulness and meditation are a risk-free panacea (not claims I would make) and believes it shortchanges Buddhism. My own view is that, while there’s much more to mindfulness than the popular version, and more to the Dharma than mindfulness, the mindfulness practice I see in the UK is effective, helpful, and usually taught with care and integrity. For many people it opens a doorway to a different seeing their lives in a new way, in the light of the Dharma.
Watch the debate here
In my talk, Morality and Mindfulness, I connected mindfulness practices with Buddhist ethics, especially the notion of skilful and unskilful - familiar territory for most Buddhists, but language that is lacking from popular versions of mindfulness. I said that in a Buddhist context values derive from understanding the mind itself in a certain way, and seeing how skilfulness and unskillfulness work in our experience.
I was very struck by the level of interest in mindfulness at the Festival. 150 people attended the debate and more were turned away, while my talk and a ‘Philosophical Dinner with Vishvapani’ were full to capacity. It seems that many people who are interested in philosophy are also meditators and the Festival was a rare opportunity to talk Dharma in a non-Buddhist setting.
Mindfulness and Interfaith at Winchester Cathedral
There is growing interest in mindfulness among Christians and in November I gave the annual Winchester Cathedral Lovell Interfaith lecture, which this year was hosted by Winchester University. I was asked to speak about mindfulness again, and my theme was ‘Mindfulness and Spirituality’. I suggested that mindfulness is never wholly ‘secular’ if that implies being an opposite to not just ‘religious’ but also ‘sacred’ and ‘spiritual’. I think that mindfulness is potentially an important meeting ground between Christians and Buddhists and, after I spoke, Brian Draper (a Christian contributor to BBC’s ‘Thought for the Day’ radio programme) responded.
Listen to ‘Mindfulness and Spirituality’ on Free Buddhist Audio
Mindfulness and Public Discourse at School of Oriental and African Studies
I’ve been involved in The Mindfulness Initiative since 2015, when I worked with others to produce Mindful Nation UK, a report by the Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group. Since then work has continued, exploring what it means to bring mindfulness practice into society on a large scale and with the support of policymakers.
Over 100 people attended a seminar on Mindfulness in Public Discourse at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in Central London. There were talks by a range of speakers from The Mindfulness Initiative and I chaired a Panel Discussion at the end of the day. Until now the strongest element of the UK mindfulness world has been Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and this has prompted a ‘therapeutic’ view of mindfulness as something that can be offered to individuals who are stressed, depressed or anxious. What’s emerging is a more ‘social’ perspective that’s concerned with bringing these practices into communities, taking account of issues such as race and poverty. “
Video of all the sessions, including the panel discussion
Follow Vishvapani’s writing and broadcasts on his ‘Wise Attention’ blog.