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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
Coleen, FBA Team
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Vajradarshini, Valderrobres, Spain
Sheila Groonell, Aryaloka, USA
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Eric, FBA Team
... amongst them.
They actually use global communication very skilfully to support their principles and
practice, so they have what is important to an alive system – a free-flow of information and
They employ a direct, frank and emotionally charged discourse; they talk to people on the
level of emotion and humanity. There is a strong sense of belonging and an acknowledgement
of the discomfort of change. They don't pretend that things are easy. So, they engage people
on an emotional level.
They have an ability to use symbols and cultural codes effectively. If ‘The Godfather’ is
anything to go by, the family is very important; so there is the symbol of the family. And
there are cultural codes – the vendetta – which will have strong internal meanings for that
system, that people can relate to. So they have recognisable bonds in that way.
They value tacit and explicit learning of the culture and skills of that network. They bring on
people; they teach them the skills that they need, to become a member of the criminal
underworld, to become part of the Mafia. So they share their knowledge freely.
So, although I think we can learn from the Mafia – the criminal underworld – in the way that
they organise themselves, and how successful they are, I am not suggesting we adopt their
values. I would like to be in a position where I can see the spiritual community promoting a
kind of 'ethical underworld' rather than a criminal underworld! We, too, need to promote our
own values and principles. And I would like to see the Buddhist community promoting
change in the wider world.
Acting ethically is no longer [just] an option, but actually is a necessity for our global survival.
We need to become an ethical underworld. We need to act on different levels to promote this.
What we can do individually and collectively; the revolutionary nature of the 'metta
bhavana' meditation ('development of loving kindness'); actions and consequences
again; taking risks; different ways of doing community; collective change is not
I'm going to now talk about what we can do on an individual and a more collective level.
On an individual level we self-develop – we go for self-development. We underpin how we
are in the world with our ethical practice, and clarity of mind through our meditation. So
developing clarity and awareness is very important.
I think that practising metta – the 'metta bhavana', the development of loving kindness – is
very important; I actually think of it as a revolutionary activity. It will change your
relationships with yourself, with individuals, with your society, a great deal, and it will
change your actions as well, so that to come from a place of loving kindness is to dramatically
change your interaction with the world.
And I think it is important that we act skilfully and ethically as individuals, because all our
actions do have consequences; we may not know what they are, but they will have
consequences. So we need to act as ethically and as clearly as we can. We need to act on the
knowledge that we are interdependent; that the consequences of our actions are borne by
others, and borne by the planet as a whole as well as ourselves. My actions don't stop here –
they flow into the world, and I don't know what effect they will have, but I know that they
will have an effect.
By meditating and acting ethically we work against craving; we develop lifestyles that
encourage low consumption, economic sharing, right livelihood. We learn to be more
contented with what we have. We can live and act in the present moment without an
attachment to outcome. We can just live freely in the world, from what is most important to
Ethical acts are actually self-validating; they don't need to have an outcome that we know
about. They are worth doing in themselves.
We can consider withdrawing support from groups and organisations that don't support
spiritual values and principles (and in fact I've done this in the past – I've just thought, 'no, I
can't do this any more. This is not working in the way that I want it to.').
And we can just take risks. We don't know what's going to happen. We can just do
something – we can be bold; we can speak out; we can be gently subversive.
Those are all things we can do as individuals, and there are lots of things we can do as
collectives, as well; as communities.
We can actually be an active part of a spiritual community, and we can do this on all kinds of
levels. We can do it on the level of friendship, just in conversation and communication with
another person. We can do it in terms of the people we live with, and the people we relate to,
in a very small area of our lives. We can do it in the Sangha – the spiritual community – in all
kinds of ways.
I do it as part of a chapter; as part of an Order; as part of the Friends of the Western
Buddhist Order. I belong to the Network of Engaged Buddhists. I have a lot of different kinds
of communities. I belong to communities of people who will take work that encourages
people to engage in the world, out into the world. That is an important community to me,
too; people that I can work alongside in promoting change.
And it is not always through personal contact – I belong to strong communities where I am
with people I rarely see, but I keep in contact with. And at some time in the future, sooner or
later, we will work together, or produce something together. So it's not always people I need
to see all the time.
We also need to be aware that change is not comfortable. We know it's not comfortable on an
individual level, but confusion exists when there is change in our society too. Confusion,
doubt, and insecurity are part of the process of change.
To belong to a community which understands that, and will support and encourage you, is
just fantastic – to be able to have people who understand what you're doing and will support
you through difficult times, and be with you through difficult times.
It is important to understand that if we experience strong emotions it's because we are really
connected to what's happening outside us. We're not ill in any way – it's not a 'problem' – it's
not because there is anything wrong with us. It is a communication between us and the
outside world, based on our feelings and emotions. So we need support to be able to let that
sort of thing in freely, and we need to be able to support ourselves to let that sort of thing in
freely, through our practice.
The importance of passing on knowledge and promoting another vision of the world;
diversity; don't leave your values and principles at home; acting from the heart; the
'infinite game'; profound personal feedback from your efforts
The spiritual community, too, is not bound by conventional values and principles – and this
is a real strength. We practice thinking outside the box in terms of normal cultural values. We
can be subversive in the nicest possible way!
I think that some of the ways that I operate as an Order member is actually to subvert
present cultural values held in our society. It's very important that we recognise that it is
good to share our knowledge, and not to hang onto it – to share our talents, our abilities and
skills within our spiritual community. This is the free flow of information and energy that I
was talking about, which makes a community alive, connected and effective.
So teach others what you know, and learn from people who know more than you do. It's
Understand that the use of symbol and myth to promote internal cultural norms will
strengthen the Sangha. We've got loads of these – we're just sitting in the right place
[Buddhafield] to do this! Promote vision; it is very important that we have another vision of
the world, and speak of it.
An open system that is alive and working well will welcome diversity. Backed by common
values, diversity will strengthen the Sangha through learning, and offer the opportunity for it
to evolve. So, diversity is change-enhancing and should be welcomed.
We can use the networks that we have to communicate our values, principles and ideas as a
spiritual community: to use our centres; to use our retreats; to teach meditation and ethics to
others; to encourage others to self-develop. It is all important work.
It is also available to any of us to join other communities to promote our values and
principles. Peace groups, anti-globalisation networks, Friends of the Earth… these are all
good outfits. But do take your values and your principles with you! Don't leave them at
So, help the Sangha – just step out into the world; interact with the world. Promote [the
Sangha's] vision and its values, and challenge cultural norms.
And we need to do this in the knowledge that we may never see the results; we may never
know what the results are. But know that we are ...