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My Relation to the Order

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by Sangharakshita

... slipped from effective back to provisional or cultural Going for Refuge and that in assessing someone's readiness for ordination one in fact no longer relies on a strong sense of one's own Going for Refuge - a sense that enables one to detect a similar movement within another person's being - but rather relies on the formal application of criteria or on impressions, feelings, hunches, and intuitions. As Subhuti says, all this is very exposing.

A few moments ago I spoke of the new developments that have taken place within the Order, and, through the Order, within the wider Movement, as being a veritable Indra's net. But in Indra's net, the marvellous jewels of which all mutually reflect one another, it is not always possible to say what is cause and what effect. This is particularly true of the new-style men's ordination process - as it has come to be called - at `Padmaloka'. I do not know whether it was my sharing of responsibility for conferring ordination that led to the emergence of this process, or the emergence of the process that led to my sharing the responsibility for conferring ordination, at least to the extent of its helping make such sharing a practical proposition. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that the new-style men's ordination process at `Padmaloka' is one of the most positive developments to have taken place in the course of the last two years and one whose repercussions have already been felt throughout the Movement in Europe and perhaps even farther afield. Subhuti has described the new-style process in his article `The Men's Ordination Process' (Shabda April 1989), which incorporates his `Letter to Men Who Have Asked for Ordination', as well as giving a fuller (updated) description of it, from `the request' to `initiation' in his more recent lecture `What is Ordination?' Prominent features of the new-style men's ordination process are the series of five two-week long Going for Refuge retreats, at which are covered the five `themes' dealing with the main areas of spiritual life within the Order, the national gatherings of men who have asked for ordination, the Going for Refuge groups (the first of which I believe emerged spontaneously among mitras quite independently of the `official' ordination process), the possibility of taking up the Going for Refuge and Prostration Practice, and the arrangements that are made from time to time for the ordination of the minority of men who, for bona fide reasons, are unable to go on the full length `Guhyaloka' ordination retreat. Moreover, the Kalyana Mitra system for men has been reconstituted on a somewhat new basis and made, in effect, part of the broader ordination process.

As I made clear in my letter to you dated 2 January 1990 (Shabda, February 1990), Kalyana Mitras will be available only to mitras who have asked for ordination, and since being an effective Kalyana Mitra requires qualities and circumstances which not all Order members at present possess it will be necessary for a proposed Kalyana Mitra relationship to be discussed by the Order chapter(s) of the mitra and the proposed Kalyana Mitras, by the Mitra Convenors' Meeting and the Ordination Team. I myself will make the final decision as to whether the particular Kalyana Mitra relationship is appropriate - a measure of the importance I attach to relationships of this kind. As to the qualities and circumstances required to be an effective Kalyana Mitra, I described these as follows: `Kalyana Mitras should be relatively senior and experienced Dharmacharis in good contact with me, without difficulties or reservations with the Order and the FWBO, with good communication with members of the Ordination Team at `Padmaloka', with proven abilities as kalyana mitras, with good Dharma knowledge and a consistent meditation practice, and with adequate opportunity to spend time with the particular mitra concerned.' Quite a formidable combination, but one that should not be beyond the reach of any Order member of ten or more years' standing or even less.

Thus, like my sharing of the responsibility for conferring ordination, the new-style men's ordination process has been responsible for, or associated with, a veritable Indra's net of new developments.

Some of these developments, such as the reinstatement of the Kalyana Mitra system for men, are obviously of more direct concern to the men's wing of the Order as a whole than are others. Among the developments that are of greater concern and interest to the men's wing of the Order as a whole are the visits Subhuti has started paying to the different men's Chapters and the series of lectures he and Aloka have given on the Going for Refuge retreats and at the national gatherings of men who have asked for ordination. The purpose of Subhuti's visits is threefold: (i) to establish communication between the Ordination Team at `Padmaloka' and the Chapters in order to ensure the future unity of the Movement; (ii) to take all possible advantage of the Chapters' advice and reflection; and (iii) to be able to talk to Chapter members about specific mitras. As for the lectures, they covered such vitally important topics as `What is the Order?', `The Refuge Tree', `The Mythic Context', and `Spiritual Friendship', and were both instructive and inspiring. So instructive and inspiring were they (judging from the minimally edited transcripts) that I would like to see them circulating more widely within the Movement or, at least, within the Order. I would also like to see the material that has been produced on the corresponding retreats for women circulating in the same way.

But perhaps the most significant development for which the new-style men's ordination process has been responsible lies in the realm of ideas and ideals. Ideas and ideals form an integral part of the FWBO, even as they form an integral part of Buddhism itself, and it is therefore unfortunate that recent years have seen an increasing tendency, on the part of some Order members and mitras, to neglect certain of our Movement's most vital and characteristic ideas. These comparatively neglected ideas are now being re-affirmed as a result of the new-style men's ordination process.

One of the most important ideas to be re-affirmed in this way is that of the absolute centrality for the Buddhist life of the act of Going for Refuge, with its corollary of the necessity for a continual deepening of one's Going for Refuge or (if one prefers the language of ascent) a constant progression to higher and ever higher levels of Going for Refuge - from effective to real, and from real to absolute. In the case of mitras who have asked for ordination this means not screwing one's courage to the sticking point for a flying leap into `ordination' so much as steadily deepening, or heightening, one's provisional Going for Refuge until it becomes effective Going for Refuge and can be `witnessed' as such.

The act of Going for Refuge is of course an individual act, that is, the act of a (real) individual; but it is not an individualistic act. Going for Refuge has an altruistic dimension, as I have termed it, a dimension represented by what is known in the Mahayana as the Bodhichitta or `Will to (Supreme) Enlightenment' not for one's own sake only but for the benefit of all living beings. As men and women who Go for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, Order members therefore have an outward-going aspect to their lives as well as an inward-looking one. They seek to transform self and world. Indeed, they recognize that it is difficult to transform the one without transforming the other, at least to some extent. The medium through which we work together to transform the world is the loose network of organizations and institutions prominent among which are our (public) Centres, our (residential spiritual) Communities, and our (team-based Right Livelihood) Co- operatives and their equivalent. This network constitutes the nucleus of the New Society as we call it, appropriating a term from current sociospeak and giving it a distinctive meaning of our own.

The idea - and ideal - of the New Society is one of the comparatively neglected ideas now being re- affirmed as a result of the new-style men's ordination process. Not that it is in need of re- affirmation throughout the Movement. Far from it. In India the idea of the New Society, as well as the related idea of the `Dhamma revolution', has been consistently and powerfully affirmed from the very beginning of our work there. Only in the West, where it is so much easier for us to withdraw into a private world of purely personal concerns, has there been a tendency in recent years for this idea to be neglected and, therefore, a need for it to be re-affirmed. Without the idea - without the vision - of the New Society our Movement loses its cutting edge. As Subhuti wrote seven years ago, in Buddhism for Today: `The purpose of the FWBO is not to find a corner for Buddhists in the midst of the old society. It is not to give Buddhism a place in the Establishment so the Buddhists can carry out their own colourful practices and hold their own peculiar beliefs. The FWBO is, to this extent, revolutionary: it wishes to change society - to turn the old society into the new'.

We would do well to remember these words. Without the idea of the New Society - without the idea of transforming world as well as self - our Going for Refuge is in danger of becoming an individualistic affair and, to that extent, in danger of being not truly a Going for Refuge at all.

Going for Refuge is sometimes spoken of in terms of commitment to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, the word being perhaps most familiar to us in the aphorism `Commitment is primary, life- style secondary'. As I pointed out in The Ten Pillars of Buddhism, the fact that life-style is `secondary' does not mean that it is `unimportant', nor does it mean that `life-style' represents ...

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