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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Candradasa, FBA Team
Viryaja, Toowoomba, Australia
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Candradasa, FBA Team
Vidyamala, Manchester, UK
Candradasa, FBA Team
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
Nagabodhi, London, UK
outcome, and we expect the outcome to be the one that we desire. We are 'goal-orientated'.
We think that if we know enough, we can dominate our environment; we're in charge. And we
would consider the means of our actions to justify the ends. We tend to be always looking
into the future – [the time] when we can have what we want.
Often we would recognise ourselves, or regard ourselves, as acting in opposition to others
who may take what we want from us. We will act competitively, and we will be in a win-lose
game: 'I win; you lose', 'you win; I lose'. It is a very isolating way of looking at things. We
see ourselves as very individualistic, acting on our own.
Often, because we see ourselves as being on our own and in competition with others, we do
become polarised. We divide ourselves from others and the world around us, and this often
leads to judgement and blame on others and their actions.
If we don't get what we want, we will experience disappointment and disempowerment. We
will see ourselves as not good enough, and often we will have very low self-esteem. And this
is really important, because it is a dominant culture that we have in the world at the moment.
This is the way that a lot of people see themselves, and the way that they interact with
Systems approach says something very different. It says this is a process which involves
synergy. It's not a 'win-lose' game – it is a 'win-win', 'lose-lose' game. It is collective and co-
We are all responsible for the way that the world is. The world that we live in is one that we
envisage in our minds, and through our minds our actions; and through our actions we bring
things into reality. We have to act in this paradigm without understanding the full outcome of
what our actions will be. We will act in the knowledge that we cannot but have an effect with
everything that we do; i.e. all our actions have consequences, but we will not know always
what the outcomes of those actions are. We can't know everything – we just can't. Not only
is the world complex, but it is also unpredictable. We never, ever, act in isolation. Regarding
ourselves as isolated individuals is not practical.
All systems can grow and adapt, evolve and learn. Change is constant. Whatever we do, we
are contributing to either change or stability. We would have an understanding through this
[systems] approach that the means are just as important as the ends. The means are the
ends, in fact. How we do something is as important as what we do. Our actions – which
include our thoughts, our speech, our written words, whatever we do bodily within the world
– will have an effect.
And, because of the change-producing feedback mechanisms within a system, actions may be
very small but may actually have huge effects. A chance remark… I have a friend who says,
'Small acts of kindness save lives' – and she's right. That is what happens, at times.
Social networks, systems and change; 'event-triggering process' – shocks to the system
and creative response; change within a community of individuals; the properties of a
It also means that, if you want to produce change, it's best not to conform. So it is important
to think outside the box. The systems approach always says we are not on our own. We can
make connections and friendships with people of common interest – it is actually very
important for networks.
I now want to say something about what systems theory has to say about social change.
In systems theory, the emergence of social change is seen as the emergence of novelty within
a system. This needs to have certain conditions to be in existence. So, the instigator of the
change has to be an open system. It has to be a system which is alive, well, and connected to
other systems. It has to be a living network, which in terms of systems theory means that it
exchanges information openly – it exchanges energy freely with other levels of systems:
family; neighbourhood; your nation; your community; whatever.
Because change is an emergent phenomena, this takes place at a point of instability. So
change is always there when there is instability in the system.
And the process of change is dependent on these forms of conditions.
I'm just going to give an idea of how you could perceive change within this kind of system;
and this could be at an individual level – so change within me could be produced by this kind
of situation – or it could be at a community level, or within a country, or globally.
You start with an event-triggering process: this could be anything from a chance remark to a
cataclysmic event. The event has to be perceived in a way in which it is meaningful – so it
cannot be ignored or adjusted to; it is a shock. Perhaps, on an individual level, you hear
something that is a shock to you; you cannot accept it with your normal understanding.
The individual, or the community, chooses to be disturbed by this event. The information is
then circulated about this disturbance, as to the meaning and value of it. The individual and
the community cannot absorb the event or the disturbance, and instability – this important
point of instability in the system – starts.
This instability can lead to all sorts of different things: it leads to chaos, confusion,
uncertainty, doubt. This can be very uncomfortable, and I'm sure everybody in this room
knows what it is like to have this on an individual level – you know – you can't process
something, it's just very uncomfortable, it can't make any sense. And there are very strong
emotions here: feelings of loss of control; fear; often self-doubt; pain; all sorts of things could
But out of this instability and discomfort there comes a change in the system. There is either
breakdown in the system, or a breakthrough in the system. If it is a breakthrough, it leads to
levels of creativity, novelty and change.
The problem – whatever the event-triggering process, and the discomfort brought about by it
– is not solved at its own level. The new order emerges that cannot be predicted by the
previous conditions. These are the emergent properties that I was talking about before.
So, that is how system theory looks at how change occurs.
I now want to look at change within a community; a community of individuals. Community,
for me, means all sorts of different levels. It is not just the people we live with – it's the
people who are on site here today; it's my community as a family; it's my community as a
member of the Western Buddhist Order. I belong to a lot of different communities, and
everybody here will too.
Because I'm going to talk about communities, I want to take time to explain in systems terms
what a definition of the community is.
Living communities are self-generating in thought and meaning, and they have these
properties:- they have a common context of meaning; they have a free flow of information
through open communication; they hold shared knowledge and rules of conduct – they have
their internally generated goals as to what behaviours are acceptable or unacceptable – they
exhibit a collective identity and a sense of belonging for the members of that community; and
they have recognisable bonds.
What the Mafia can teach us about supporting change; Fritjof Capra's ideas on the
criminal underworld's success; what the Mafia does well as a community; towards an
These conditions are true in many institutions, organisations and communities, from the
criminal underworld to the Sangha, and I now want to look at how these conditions are
conducive to change.
I'm going to start now talking about what the Mafia can teach us about supporting change.
I recently read a book by Fritjof Capra, called 'The Hidden Connections'. He talks from time
to time, in this book, about the criminal underworld being more successful in promoting itself
than multinational corporations, in the conditions of globalisation that we have today. He
says they are uniquely successful organisations. And he identifies some reasons for this (he
talks about the criminal underworld; I'm talking about the Mafia, for convenience).
The Mafia do not originate in traditional institutions of the civil society. They are 'outside
the box'; and they are not bound by convention, values, or behaviour. So they are already a
system within a larger system, which is unconventional, which is non-conforming.
Because the Mafia community is not bound by society's dominant values, it can challenge
dominant values and provide triggers for change.
There are a coalition of grass-roots [Mafia] communities – so they are living systems which
are connected to other communities in different ways. They are open systems.
The Mafia's communities are bound by a broad systematic perspective; a common context,
which relates to the meaning and stability of that organisation. They have a common