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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Viryaja, Toowoomba, Australia
Candradasa, FBA Team
Jinamitra, Welwyn, UK
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Ratnaghosha, FBA Chairman
Kuladharini, Glasgow, UK
Mary, FBA Team
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
... challenge then it will
probably not be many decades before the Order evolves into a two-tier Community of full-time
FWBO-style —monastics’ and half-hearted —lay people’.
The increasing diversity of lifestyles within the F/WBO therefore presents an interesting challenge.
Such a community requires guidance, nourishment, and inspiration in forms that are speciﬁc to as
many of its needs and concerns as possible. When Sangharakshita was most active as a teacher –
giving lectures, leading seminars, giving personal interviews – most of the people he was talking to
were British, relatively young, unmarried, and living the ‘classic’ FWBO lifestyle. Accordingly, much of
the material we have on record from those days is geared to the needs of such people. It therefore
seems important that we now start to develop a much broader body of —lifestyle teachings’ than we
presently have to hand. But who will give them? Who will write the books, give the lectures and lead
the seminars? The obvious candidates are those who are trying to practice the Dharma within some
of those hitherto undervalued contexts. There are now a good number of people who have spent
years trying to live a Dharma life whilst fulﬁlling family responsibilities, or working in the wider world.
Surely by now they have insights to share and struggles to record. Get out your word processors,
folks! It’s time to tell us what you’ve learned.
Fourteen years ago the gender balance was very lopsided, with many more men in the Order than
women, and more ordinations taking place among men each year. Things are certainly changing.
There are still more Dharmacharis than Dharmacharinis, but the annual ordination tallies are evening
out. Teams of Dharmacharinis are playing leading roles at several of our centres, and in some regions
there are considerably more women than men in the process of preparing themselves for ordination.
Should this trend continue, it is quite conceivable that there will be more women in the Order than
men within a few decades, and it will be fascinating to see how this shift affects us.
thebuddhistcentre.com: triratna writing
The F/WBO is fast becoming very different to the F/WBO in which many of us grew up – and on the
basis of which we formed our visions for the future. It is time to take up the task of recording the
stories of those early days, before the memories of that very different world fade away completely, or
seem too bizarre to be credible. Those stories would communicate the spirit, the culture, the
understandings and misunderstandings out of which our present Movement has grown. They will
have a lot to teach us, I suspect – about ourselves if nothing else. I hope they will also remind us of
some principles from which we can still learn. Doubtless they will also highlight some of the naive
assumptions and expectations from which we must free ourselves, if we have not done so already.
Since I made this point in my talk last November, the Order, and to some extent the wider FWBO, has
in fact witnessed quite an explosion of Order members’ reminiscences of its early days. This was
sparked off by a single contribution to Shabda, which posed directly and indirectly a number of
questions about the FWBO's attitudes to sex, sexual relationships, to the family, to gender, and to the
uses and abuses of spiritual authority. Although the questioning and reminiscing is still very much a
feature of our life at the moment, and still putting some of us in touch with painful memories, my
sense is that most of us are ﬁnding the process enormously productive and liberating.
2/ the economic climate
In 1987 many western economies were passing through a phase of radical change. Governments,
whether nominally of the right or left, were loosening their grip on things, allowing market forces free
rein. The oft-stated vision was of a thrusting global economy, powered by unrestrained enterprise and
initiative, generating unprecedented wealth – a proportion of which would —trickle down′ to beneﬁt
even the least successful members of the community. The reality actually experienced by many was
one of ﬁercer competition for jobs, greater workloads, more stress, and an increasingly bleak set of
expectations about any possibility of security in the future.
While proposing that such a climate might bring a bracing edge of commitment and realism to our
team-based right livelihood enterprises, I admitted it was also likely that less people would be
prepared to take the ﬁnancial risk of involving themselves in these institutions, or would feel immune to
the increasingly conﬁdent Siren call of material security, even prosperity (a call that had been relatively
unfashionable for people within the FWBO’s predominant age-range and social groupings from the
sixties to the early eighties). Within the coming decade or so, I said, we would probably see a much
higher proportion of Order members working out in the world's marketplaces.
Such a prospect, I argued, needn’t be a threat. Out in the world people earned more money than our
relatively simple lives required, leaving a surplus that could fund Dharma and social projects. Out in
the world, too, we would learn new skills, develop new kinds of expertise – all of which might ﬁnd their
way back into team-based projects within the sangha at some future point. After all, the pendulum
might swing the other way, as some people, after a taste of life out in the world, would investigate the
possibility of working with fellow Dharma-farers once again. In the ﬁnal analysis, I said, we would do
well to remember that right livelihood was a practice that can be taken up in all kinds of situations and
circumstances. It was quite possible that many people would beneﬁt greatly – and perhaps
thebuddhistcentre.com: triratna writing
communicate the Dharma more effectively – as they tried to practise right livelihood in the challenging
climate of the commercial world.
Today, as we have seen, there are indeed proportionately far less Order members and Mitras working
in FWBO-run, team-based right livelihood businesses, even in the UK, than there were a dozen years
ago. Back then, the pages of Golden Drum (the FWBO's quarterly newsletter of the time) chronicled
the emergence of new businesses with reassuring frequency. These days, new business ventures are
something of a rarity and it is not uncommon instead to hear of an FWBO business that is closing, or
employing a proportion of non-Buddhist workers.
The major exception to this trend has been windhorse:evolution, which has grown in just about every
way, year on year, until very recently. In its warehouse and administrative headquarters in Cambridge,
and its chain of Evolution retail stores, windhorse:evolution employs some two hundred or more
people, most of them living a classic FWBO-UK lifestyle. It should be borne in mind though that many
of those people are actually visitors from overseas, spending a period of time at windhorse:evolution
as a training experience. Whether or not windhorse:evolution will succeed in attracting people who
want to make a long-term commitment to the kind of lifestyle it offers remains to be seen.
windhorse:evolution is by far the largest single ﬁnancial donor to FWBO projects around the world.
Without a detailed survey it is hard to know to how much of the wealth being accumulated by those
working outside FWBO contexts is being made available to the movement through donations.
Certainly, major fund-raising campaigns in recent years (the latest being in aid of Aranya, the women's
ordination retreat centre) have done fairly well. But as one looks around, one can easily see a lot of
projects and Dharma workers needing urgent ﬁnancial help.
And as for whether or not the pendulum will swing back, bringing a rush of refugees from the outside
world into new FWBO enterprises, it is too early to say. If and when such a trend occurs, I doubt we'll
see a renaissance of wholefood shops and vegetarian restaurants – the staples of our early ventures
into team-based right livelihood. I suspect that people with professionally trained and tested skills will
form partnerships so as to be able to continue doing what they do well, and lucratively, but in a more
morally and ideologically congenial context.
3/ ideological shifts
In 1987 I predicted that the changes in the economic climate would bring about signiﬁcant shifts in
the ideological —atmosphere’ in the wider world. The FWBO emerged in 1960s Britain. We suffered
no oppression from the state or established religious institutions. If anything, we found our feet in the
context of a culture (or at least a substantial subculture) that was largely supportive of our goals and
lifestyle choices. As the surrounding world became more frankly materialistic, I warned that we would
ﬁnd ourselves pitted for the ﬁrst time against contrary forces that were coherent and conﬁdent. Would
this era of triumphant materialism erode our focus and idealism? Would enough of us be immune to
the gravitational pull of worldly success, or worldly anxieties? Would anyone be interested in
meditation any more? Or in living a Buddhist life? We would need to redouble our Bodhisattva