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Spreading the Dharma - Women-s Order Convention 1987

by Sangharakshita

SANGHARAKSHITA IN SEMINAR

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON "SPREADING THE DHARMA"
[Women's Order Convention 1987]
Those Present:
The Venerable Sangharakshita, Sanghadevi, Ratnamegha,
Padmasuri, Ashokashri, Mallika, Vajragita, Srimala, Sarvabhadri,
Ratnadakini, Padmavati, Vidyavati (Transcriber's Note: The voice
prints were too minimal to be able to identify the speakers by name
in their subsequent contributions)
Sangharakshita: All right, let's see what we can do with these questions. Spreading the
Dharma.
What would be your view as a means of spreading the Dharma more widely, of
establishing a team which would tour around the world holding retreats and from
there refer people to existing FWBO Centres. Beforehand the team would make
contact with other Buddhist organisations in the area and perhaps hold some local
public talks as a preparation. Do you feel the Movement is ready for this and is it
a good use of our present resources?
I'm wondering, to begin with, what function this team would fulfil that wasn't fulfilled by
the existing FWBO Centres to which the team would be referring people?
__________: It's going to continents where there are no centres. Making contact with
people who may not otherwise hear about the movement at all for many years in terms of
actual centres.
S: That raises the question of the best use of our present resources, because presumably
it would be a better use of our existing resources if we couldn't do everything, to have
such a team, if it did exist at all, going around in areas where there was at least some hope
of people being able to establish contact with an existing Centre. Otherwise you'd go
along, you'd give people a glimpse of something and then they're not able to do anything
about it. They can't follow it up. But then of course the question arises, as I mentioned,
if there is already a centre in that area, what would that team be doing that that centre
wouldn't be doing? Presumably it would be having public lectures, presumably it would
be holding retreats, presumably it would have its own connections with other Buddhist
groups in the area and so on. Would it not be a duplication of effort?
__________: We thought more of countries where there aren't any and it takes a lot of
resources to establish a centre but if you had a team like this and you managed to interest
people who started meditating and then going on retreats, then maybe getting ordained
and then starting a centre in their country.
S: So you envisage the team going regularly?
__________: Possibly, yes.
S: Because a one off visit wouldn't really be so helpful, because not many people would
be in a position, even if they wanted to do so, just to up sticks and off to a nearby country
that had FWBO Centres.
__________: But sometimes if people come to retreats in England, then go back and
continue meditating that's very effective. It could have that effect.
S: I'm just wondering whether all the organising and all the expense would really make
it worthwhile. Whether it would be the best use of our existing resources, bearing in mind
that those resources are limited in every way. If we had lots of unoccupied Order
members and lots of spare cash, I'd say well fine, if some people feel like doing that. I
don't see it as practicable at the moment, and certainly not as regards the women Order
members because there are so few of you. There are so many Centres, as you know only
too well, where there are no regular women Order members, so we presumably need to
fulfil that requirement first.
I think perhaps the only way in which there could be a team would be where you had a
team of people going where there might even be established FWBO Centres, but a team
of people who specialise, as it were, like the team that's been going around from
Vajraloka. Perhaps a team of people with a specialist knowledge or a greater experience
than is usual in the Order, either of meditation or of Dharma study or something of that
sort. But no, I think at present we're not ready for this, unless perhaps of a specialist
nature, and then that specialist team would tend to go round more where there were
Centres already, helping them to raise their level in certain respects.
__________: Resources aside, would you not think it would be skilful thing to do, to
actually stimulate people's interest, because presumably we already send out publications
to countries where there's no direct way of it being followed up other than that person
travelling many thousands of miles.
S: Yes, that's true. But then that requires just a postage stamp. Whereas, if supposing
you're thinking of people making say a round the world tour, it's going to cost tens upon
tens of thousands of pounds. So, quite apart from the question of people, it's not easy to
get Order members to India, we don't have the funds for it. Most of those who have gone
have paid their own expenses. We've not been able to finance them. In some cases they
passed the hat round among their friends, or their friends have passed the hat around for
them, which in a way is quite a shame that the FWBO as such has not been able to finance
them, even for such an important thing as going and conferring ordinations.
__________: Maybe this team ought to have some sort of livelihood like Buddhist
theatre show or.....
S: But think of all the organisation that requires. You'd need a roadie going on ahead
and.....
__________: Or the retreat would actually have to bring in money.
S: That's a chancy sort of business, isn't it. It seems a good idea but I don't think we're
ready for it yet.
__________: Do you think we have to be more adventurous at the home base?
S: Perhaps we have to consolidate the home base more. There are lots of things that we
just don't have funds for. Think of publications. I'm a bit disappointed that this year we
can't bring out certain things we hoped that we would bring out and the new Mitrata
Omnibus it seems we may not be able to bring out as a proper publication, which is an
absolute shame if we can't, just due to lack of funds. Which means that all that material
is just confined to the Movement. And if we did have a few thousand pounds to spare I
think it would be a much better investment if we put it towards bringing out the Mitrata
Omnibus in a form that could be distributed outside the FWBO. But we don't apparently
at the moment have funds for that purpose. We can't even support people who are
working full time for the Centres - some are still signing-on. Here and there there's even
a chairman who has to sign on. This is really quite a shame. It reflects on us in a way quite
badly. So I think we have to attend to those sort of basic things first. Otherwise we're
trying to spread out from a comparatively weak base. So yes, in a way it's a good idea,
this, but I think we can't do it just yet.
We've heard from Jayapushpa that on leaving England for Malaysia, she asked
you for advice about setting up the FWBO in Malaysia. You apparently said you
could write a book on the subject. What at the moment do you feel are the most
important factors you would like to put across to the Movement in general about
spreading the Dharma?
I'm not sure what that last bit means. 'The most important factors you would like to put
across to the movement in general about spreading the Dharma'- spreading Dharma in
Britain or spreading it say in Malaysia or some other country where we go newly, or a
Buddhist country or a non-Buddhist country?
__________: I think was quite a general question, worldwide. It certainly wasn't
specifically Malaysia.
S: Well there the situation is rather different. You have to bear in mind first of all that
Malaysia is officially an Islamic state. There are certain things you can't do, certain things
you can't say. I don't think you can even give a public lecture without sponsorship by a
recognised Buddhist group. I think, if I'm not mistaken that, as a foreigner you even need,
strictly speaking, official permission to give a public lecture. But they sort of turn a blind
eye provided you behave yourself, but that law is there if they want to invoke it, so that
one has that to bear in mind, which one doesn't have to think about in Britain. For
instance I doubt very much if you could publicly denounce belief in a personal god in
Malaysia. I do notice that all the Malaysian Buddhist publications soft pedal religious
differences. They definitely soft pedal them. To an extent, sometimes, that compromises
the integrity of Buddhism. So that's something that one needs to be aware of.
And then in Malaysia there are a number of Buddhist groups, mainly chinese, and in the
case of Jayapushpa she's a solitary Order member. I think there the danger is that the
FWBO's distinctive emphasis or distinctive message, may get lost. Because it's one thing
just to be personally popular and give talks on the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble
Truths and perhaps aspects of the Dharma that the other Buddhist groups accept and
acknowledge and give ...

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