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European Chairs assembly Meeting August 2015: report by Nandavajra
More than 30 Triratna European Centre Chairs gathered at Adhisthana from 12th to 20th August for the summer European Chairs Assembly and were joined by members of the Preceptors College, non-European guest Chairs (Shubhavyuha from Sydney and Sudaya from Melbourne), representatives from movement wide projects and members of the Development Team. The Adhisthana team and community were very attentive, generous but unobtrusive hosts despite the fact that they were working very hard to set up for the Area Order Gathering which followed straight on from the ECA. It was a pleasure to witness them working so harmoniously and effectively.
As is the custom the meeting included the usual reporting-in groups, the opportunity for a double meditation in the morning and an evening puja. As ever a strong feature was the meeting of friends and various informal discussions at meals times and sitting on the Adhisthana courtyard benches.
The Assembly continued to explore the theme of ‘Creating a Culture of Triratna Centres’ in three main ways. Saddhaloka, Mahamati, Sona, Parami and Ratnadharini joined the meeting for two mornings to lead study on the six distinctive emphases of Triratna, with Mahamati giving an introductory talk on the first session.
Three sessions of the meeting were devoted to place of ‘secular’ mindfulness activities at Triratna Centres and exploring the impact on the culture of Centres and the opportunities and challenges. Vishvapani kindly joined the meeting to talk about secular mindfulness in the wider society beyond Triratna and in particular the Mindful Nation UK initiative and the Mindful Nation Report.
Saddhanandi reported on the Mindfulness Colloquium in 2014 and shared her reflections on how secular mindfulness activities can be integrated into Triratna, the lessons that can be learned from the secular mindfulness world and the need for a clearer Triratna position. For the final session Vidyamala talked about her experience of establishing Breathworks and how, for her, it is very clearly an expression of Bhante’s teaching and the Bodhisattva Ideal. There were also short presentations from three UK Centre Chairs on how secular mindfulness is part, or in one case not part, of their Centre events, along with a plenary session.
Another aspect of Creating a Culture of Triratna Centres was the presentation and discussion of a draft document from the International Council detailing ‘Criteria for Bone fide Triratna Centres’. This will be discussed further by the International Council prior to circulating final guidance in 2016.
Subhuti kindly joined the meeting for two sessions shortly after his return from India. In the first he explored the current stage of transition for the Triratna Community from being led by a single ‘charismatic’ individual who founded the Sangha to the time where it is no longer dependent on that single leader and where there is a sense of overall coherence, a process referred to as ‘routinisation’. He highlighted the need to finding ways and systems for maintaining commonality and cohesion, which allow us to remain a single Order, while allowing the freedom to explore opportunities and possibilities.
In the second session Subhuti explored notions of the Unconditioned and importance of grasping the distinction between the conditioned and the Unconditioned, what this means and the need to be able to conceive of a positive content to the Buddha’s experience without importing the content and false perceptions of the world of appearances.
A more formal element of the meeting was the business meeting and the AGM of the Triratna Chairs Assembly during which the annual report and accounts for the Charity were presented and approved. Full minutes of the business meeting and AGM and the report can be viewed on this page.
A Development Fund budget for 2016 was agreed along with changes to the Development Team include increasing the posts of Liaison and Communications Officer (Munisha) and Young Buddhists Co-ordinator (currently Singhamati) to full time and appointing a part time bookkeeper.
For the 2016 Development Fund Centres have pledged around £116,000 and, thanks to Amalavajra’s fundraising, there’s an additional £20,000 and possibly a further £30,000 available. As usual, grants were agreed to Triratna projects and bodies who benefit Triratna worldwide: Clear Vision, Windhorse Publications, The Buddhist Centre Online and the College of Public Preceptors; also for a post of Young Buddhists Co-ordinator and the members of the ECA’s Development Team who are employed to provide central services including fundraising, media, communications and liaison with other Buddhist groups. £5,000 for translations of Triratna books, and a £5,000 Growth Fund for grants to help new groups and centres were also agreed.
Amalavajra presented the annual Generosity Awards. Paris won the prize for donations in the Small Centre category; Stockholm in the Medium Centre category and Cambridge in the Large Centre category; but the London Buddhist Centre consistently outclasses them all with even larger donations.
The meeting devoted further time to the development of a bold and ambitious vision, strategy and fundraising initiative to resource the future of the Triratna Community, debating a more detailed proposal from the working group which brings together representatives from the ECA, the College of Public Preceptors, the Order Office and the International Council. There will be more news of this later in the year.
The Chairs also heard a short presentation, from Munisha, about the responsibilities for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. Candradasa updated the meeting on the redesign of the TBCO and Mokshini reported on Buddhist Action Month 2015 describing its success and speaking passionately for its development in the future. There were also reports on the International Council, plans for the next Urban Retreat in November, and Vajragupta detailed training events that will be taking place at Adhisthana, building on a very fruitful and inspiring study leaders retreat led by Ratnaguna.
An innovative event on the last day was an afternoon session of 10 minute ‘pop-up’ talks or presentations, covering such diverse topics as an update on Windhorse Trust, the need for meditation and Dharma activities for older people, a Dharma inspired vision for sustainable cities, an inspiring vision for a new kind of Centre in East Kent, the freedom that can be discovered in conflict and Jnanadhara communicating through music. This was a particularly pleasurable and relaxing conclusion to the meeting.
Once again it is easy to say that a rich and stimulating meeting took place in a very effective and harmonious manner.
Nandavajra (nandavajra [at] triratnadevelopment.org)