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Chairmens Event 1986

by Sangharakshita


Questions And Answers
With The Chairmen Of FWBO Centres
At Their Annual General Meeting Held In 1986

Those Present: Sangharakshita, and (in order of appearance) Tejananda, Abhaya, Mangala, Sona,
Susiddhi, Devamitra, Devaraja, Kamalasila, Suvajra

14th August 1986

Tejananda: What we've got for you this evening, Bhante, we've divided into groups and discussed
the areas which we've followed for the last few days. I've got six areas tonight which questions came
out of. So the first area which we're dealing with is the Chairmen's Meeting and senior Order
members. The first question is from Abhaya about senior Order members' personal development.

Abhaya: In discussion the other evening Subhuti expressed his fear that as a result of having taken
on a lot of responsibility over the years certain areas of his personal development had been neglected
or left behind and he thought this may well be a more general problem in the case of senior,
responsible Order members. Do you have any observations or views on this?

Sangharakshita: I wonder what the senior and responsible Order members themselves as a whole
feel, especially the Chairmen. One mustn't jump to conclusions. One needs to gather one's data first
perhaps. So does anyone express any opinion? Do you all heartily agree with Subhuti, disagree with
him or was the nature of the different areas identified?

Abhaya: The general opinion was that in most cases it seemed to be in the reporting in that a lot of
us did not experience this, that whatever areas of development we still need to work on were not
necessarily as a result of having taken on too much responsibility. Though I wouldn't say that that
was in every case so maybe others could....

Mangala: Just following on from what Abhaya said actually my impression was quite the contrary,
that most chairmen seem to feel it. Actually having been chairmen helped them to develop
themselves rather than leave areas behind. Perhaps some areas were left behind but the general
feeling seemed to be that it had actually helped them to develop.

S: It must be borne in mind of course that in Subhuti's case he isn't a chairman in the ordinary sense,
and is in many ways in a much more difficult position than even chairmen usually are. Mainly
because he has so many different things, often quite important, to attend to or become involved with,
most of which just don't hang together, as it were. It's quite a large number of relatively big pieces
that he's having to deal with and that does constitute a difficulty. I would agree that the taking on of
responsibility is in itself a means of development. I think most chairmen have actually developed at
least in certain respects as a result of being chairmen.

But was there general agreement with regard to areas that chairmen in particular say, or senior and
responsible Order members, and a high percentage of those are chairmen, were more likely to
neglect or overlook, or not have time for, than others?

Tejananda: I think to some extent one area was meditation.

S: But is this problem, if it is a problem, specific to senior and responsible Order members or is a
general problem that affects all Order members or all mitras for that matter, who are engaged in some
kind of, let us say, practical activity or organisational activity? Is it something that is peculiar just to
the senior and responsible people?

Sona: As I understood it what Subhuti was trying to say was that because of the position of being
chairman and as the most experienced person around the centre, one was in a position of receiving
the sort of criticism that would be very helpful. Often one gets criticism but not the right sort of
criticism to help one to see what areas one needs to bear in mind. I thought that was his main thrust.

S: I think this is very much a point because as a chairman, constitutions notwithstanding, he's in a
very strong position in his centre, and in his council is usually looked up to and deferred to by others
to quite a considerable extent. And this may mean, and I'm sure it does sometimes mean that the
chairman is not sufficiently challenged. I don't mean to say that he should be challenged regularly in
council meetings - that would be rather boring and would hold things up - but perhaps not
sufficiently challenged as a person, as an individual. In other words only too often, and I know this
happens, he carries over his chairman's hat, so to speak, even into say chapter meetings. It's as
though even in the chapter meetings he is still chairman of the centre which is quite inappropriate. I
think this is perhaps an area in which senior and responsible Order members and chairmen in
particular have to be very careful, that they do open themselves to genuinely positive - whether
critical or appreciative - feedback from fellow Order members and they don't start unconsciously
standing on or sheltering behind or taking refuge in, their position, their organisational position as
chairman. And I think the larger the centre, perhaps the more likely this is to happen. Because the
larger the centre, in a manner of speaking, the more powerful you are as chairman.

So I think senior and responsible Order members need to watch this. There's the classic story of
Sariputta who was once walking along somewhere and he allowed his robe to drag on the ground
which is against the Vinaya, and a seven year old samanera at once pointed it out and he turned
round and thanked him. This has been regarded as a sort of model for that sort of situation. You
mustn't turn around and say 'who are you to find fault with a chairman'?

Any other areas?

Tejananda: Another question on an area related to this from Susiddhi. The Order Office and senior
Order members.

Susiddhi: A couple of years ago the idea of the Order Office as a collection of experienced Order
members living and working with yourself was put forward. Would that fully fledged Order Office
be the ideal link and executive for the chapter convenors' meeting, the mitra convenors' meeting and
chairmen's meeting?

S: I can't say that I find that very easy to answer but I would say that I think I myself would find it a
much more valuable situation and useful situation and, in a way, helpful situation to be in, because
one of the things I've noticed in connection with the Order Office is that obviously I'm working with
people in the Order Office. They see quite a lot of me. Those who are actually doing my secretarial
work see me every day unfailingly, including Saturdays and Sundays. We've always got something

on hand, there's always something we're concerned with, dealing with, discussing. There's always
some little crisis or other to sort out. But what I've noticed is that in the case of people who over the
years have worked in the Order Office, and especially perhaps lately when they've tended to stay
longer, though to begin with there hasn't been much of a personal contact or personal
communication, through that sort of day to day, even as it were organisational contact, I definitely
get to know them quite well. Better than I know other people, and they also get to know me well, in
the sense that they get to know my way of looking at things, my way of approaching things, my way
of handling things, and in that way I can say with regard to almost anybody who works in the Order
Office for a certain length of time, a certain rapport develops which does not develop in the case of
people I don't work with in that way, even though I may happen to like those other people quite a lot.
But that sort of rapport doesn't develop. It only develops in that sort of situation of working together
and, in the case of the Order Office situation, yes I'm very much working with people. I've certainly
noticed this.

So clearly it would ideally be best if I develop that sort of rapport with more experienced people
rather than with less experienced people, but I don't know whether it's possible for any of those
people to join, whether they'd want to, whether they'd feel too cramped or maybe they'd feel that they
didn't have their own, as it were, little kingdom any longer. Some people, in Caesar's words, would
rather be the first man in a village than a second man in Rome! [Laughter] There is that. They might
feel that in the Order Office their style might be a bit cramped as it were. But yes, in some ways I
was originally hoping that some of the more senior Order members would gather around but that
hasn't happened. The notable exception being Subhuti. Even Subhuti has to be, as it were, seconded
for other purposes so often. It's a long ...

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