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We provide transcribed talks by 35 different speakers
Kamalashila, Catalunya, Spain
Coleen, FBA Team
Suriyavamsa, Glasgow, UK
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Buddhasiha, Ipswich, UK
... going for
Refuge. Indeed it may be said that the over-arching project of the FWBO is the creation of a tradition
of Buddhism that is genuinely at home in the modern world and Western culture. While Buddhists in
the West may hope that an intrinsically Western Buddhism will arise naturally in the course of
centuries, the FWBO sees it as something to be systematically cultivated. Sangharakshita has sought
to outline the basis on which a Buddhist tradition may arise that is as much Western as Zen is
Japanese, or the Nyingmapas are Tibetan.
The FWBO’s role as an organisation is to make these principles manifest in institutions, ideas, lived
experience and forms of practice, and these manifestations of Dharma practice are also presentations
of the FWBO. Given its relationship with other forms of Buddhism, both Eastern and Western, it is
natural that the FWBO seeks to avoid portraying Buddhism as an Asian tradition that is, however
venerable and profound, culturally alien to the West. And it does not wish to present Buddhism as a
system of philosophy, ethics, psychology or relaxation which may be easily assimilated to otherwise
unchanged western lifestyles. It wishes Buddhism to be seen as a universal spiritual tradition, that
applies equally to all ages, and transcends culture. It wishes to suggest that Buddhism has great
relevance to the modern world and that its wisdom, and radicalism can be re-expressed within that
world and make a profound contribution to it.
thebuddhistcentre.com: triratna writing
III. the fwbo’s representations
The movement that has grown up over the last 30 years as a result of this project is complex and
multi-faceted, and the question of ‘how the
FWBO presents itself’ is accordingly complex. I
want to consider a few examples of FWBO
activity to suggest this complexity a mediation
class at the London Buddhist Centre; pieces of
work by three visual artists; and Dharma Life
1. the london buddhist centre
The principal way people encounter the FWBO and learn about its approach to Buddhism is through
the activities of its urban public centres. Of these the London Buddhist Centre (LBC) is the largest and
most fully developed. Several thousand people pass through its doors every year, and it has become
a well-know landmark in East London.
The main teaching work of the LBC consists of meditation classes. Each week it holds one main
introductory class on Wednesday evening, plus one or more six week courses, and a class every
lunchtime. These teach two samatha meditation practices, anapanasati, or the mindfulness of
breathing, and mettabhavana, or the development of loving-kindness which are typically taught in a
single session. There are also follow-up sessions or courses that address topics such as how to work
with the difﬁculties encountered in meditation, and the relationship between ethics and meditation. On
average about ﬁfty or sixty people attend the evening class, and those who decide to pursue what is
taught there continue to attend for a maximum of nine months before moving on to a ‘Friends Class’,
on Tuesday evenings.
The ﬁrst point to note is the emphasis on meditation as the medium through which Buddhism and the
FWBO are introduced. The implication is that the FWBO’s teaching is related to personal experience,
and especially to the experience of personal change. Thus Buddhism is not presented initially as an
intellectual discipline, a movement for social change, or a devotional discipline in these introductory
activities, although the FWBO contains all of these dimensions. Devotional practices are not taught at
introductory level, and chanting and mantras come later too. When concepts from the Buddhist
tradition are introduced in talks their practical import, and experiential signiﬁcance is usually stressed,
as opposed to their philosophical interest.
Secondly neither the anapanasati nor the mettabhavana requires any prior knowledge of, or assent to
speciﬁcally Buddhist teachings. In this sense they differ from Theravadin Vipassana practices or
Tibetan tantric practices, and this makes the FWBO’s meditation teaching less overtly ‘Buddhist’.
However, there is no attempt to disguise the Buddhist origin and orientation of the meditation
practices that are taught at the LBC. Classes are led by Order members who wear a kesa (a brocade
indicating their membership of the Order), use their Pali or Sanskrit names, and take place in a shrine-
room that is dominated by a large Amitabha rupa, albeit one with a Western face.
thebuddhistcentre.com: triratna writing
Similarly no expectations are placed on individuals that they will afﬁliate to the FWBO, or even that
they have an interest in Buddhism. Peggy Morgan has contrasted the FWBO’s approach in this
respect to that of other groups in being both out-going and non-coercive. ‘I have found something of
a middle way in the styles referred to above in the activities of the Friends of the Western Buddhist
Order, who do actively initiate contacts and discussion, and seek to inform people, but who have
never been accused of putting any undue pressure on people.’ However activities are carefully
structured to allow a clear path of progressive involvement in the LBC, which also involves
engagement in more speciﬁcally Buddhist practices such as puja (worship).
It might be said that at the LBC’s introductory classes makes meditation is explicit while Buddhism is
implicit. However the environment in which the class takes place gives an additional message. Around
25 people live in the building above the Centre in residential communities. Next door, and open before
classes, is a co-operatively run vegetarian restaurant, and in the surrounding streets are several
Buddhist-run shops, a café, the London Buddhist Arts Centre, and Bodywise Natural Health Centre.
Indeed the LBC is the focus for a community of several hundred Buddhists. The shops, communities
and so on are outward manifestations of the decisions of the people involved to live in an overtly
Buddhist environment. These activities have been described as the seeds of a ‘New Society’, which
offers an alternative to conventional social forms and is informed by and supportive of Buddhist
practice. Their proximity suggests to the people attending meditation classes that the practice they
are learning has social and economic implications over and above the purely personal beneﬁts that
Many people attending the LBC’s meditation classes have no interest in the FWBO, and perhaps
none in Buddhism – they just want to explore some of the beneﬁts of meditation. The Centre’s
teaching meets this interest on its own level, yet introduces other aspects of its teaching and practice
which people are free to pursue if they want to. Buddhism is communicated as something that is not
culturally alien, has a universal relevance, is accessible to people’s lives and experience, and yet which
implies a radical alternative. This tried and tested approach underlies all of the FWBO’s teaching work.
2. the dynamics of cultural encounter – envisaging a western buddha
The second aspect of the FWBO’s representations I want to explore is the visual arts, and this in turn
suggests a further aspect of the FWBO project: it aspires to create a Western Buddhist culture,
making links between the western artistic heritage and Buddhist practice. I will look at work by three
Order members, Chintamani, Aloka and Dhammarati, and for the sake of simplicity I have chosen
three treatments of Buddha or Bodhisattva images in three different media: sculpture, painting and
graphic design. Each of these men is a senior member of the Western Buddhist Order, Chintamani
was ordained in 1973 while Aloka and Dhammarati were ordained in 1976). Each of them produces
distinctive work that attempts to articulate a visual language for Western Buddhism.
thebuddhistcentre.com: triratna writing