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“For me, just being with other young people… actually this is really important… there’s an energy, there’s a natural friendship, there’s a speaking the Dharma in our own language, in our own time, with our own metaphors, about the life decisions we are currently trying to make” - Singhamati, 2015.
In 2008 the European Chairs’ Assembly Development Team - which supports Triratna-wide initiatives around the world - ran a weekend retreat exploring how to inspire more young people to practice the Dharma. From that event, held at Bilberry Hill in the UK in November 2008 and attended by 24 people from across the community, the Triratna Young Buddhists’ project emerged. The aim of this project was to attract younger people to Triratna. The plan was to hold retreats and events at Buddhist centres specifically targeting young people, with these events being facilitated by young Mitras and Order Members. This was seen as an important step in addressing the decline in young people attending Triratna Centres and events since its heyday in the 1970s when almost 80% of those ordained were in their 20s or 30s. In contrast in 2006 just over 10% of the Order were in their 20s or 30s.
It must be noted that the issue of attracting young people is a concern to all Buddhist Sanghas, not just to Triratna. At a recent European Buddhist Union meeting, held in Adhisthana, the issue of how to involve more young people in Buddhism was discussed, as well as how to communicate Buddhist ideas to non-Buddhists. You can read a short report on this here. At that meeting the possibility of a pan-European, pan-Buddhist gathering was mooted.
From 2009 onwards a yearly gathering of young people in Triratna was organised in the UK, which quickly expanded in both numbers and in reach. By 2011 there were 130 young people – including those from mainland Europe – gathered at a boarding school called Smallwood Manor, in the UK for a retreat. Here is a wonderfully evocative short film from that event. The ‘Big One’ continues to be held annually and is one of the highlights of the Triratna’s young Buddhists’ calendar.
Here’s the coverage of the 2018 ‘Big One’ on the theme of ‘Seek Truth, Release Life’
While the ‘Big One’ is open to anyone under 35, in recent years there has been a development towards running sub-25s activities. The first such event took place in Adhisthana in 2015 and it is now an annual feature.
Vision, Energy, Action: Who’s Involved
A significant step in addressing the ageing demographic was the appointment of someone who would specifically work to tackle this issue. And so Singhamati became the first Young Buddhist Co-ordinator in 2014, responsible for overseeing activities for young Buddhists across Triratna. She undertook some research about the need for such activities - the ‘who, why and what’ - finding that the project had made a huge difference in attracting young people; and being around other people who had committed to the spiritual path enabled younger people to commit themselves too:
“things really took off when I met young Order Members as I saw it was for young people too” - participant in 2014 survey on Young Buddhist Activities
Listen to Singhamati talk about her findings
In 2015 Prajnaketu took over from Singhamati as the Triratna Young Buddhist Coordinator – and this important role went from being a part-time post to a full-time one. Here’s a Newsbyte about the handover which took place during the 2015 ’Big One’. Prajnaketu was ordained in 2013, and he is involved in the Oxford Triratna Group where he lives in a mixed community. In 2016 he published a document: ’Vision, Energy, Action - A Guide to Inspiring Young Buddhists’, which explores how to reach and inspire young people to practice the Dharma, looking at this from the perspective of how events are publicised, the language used during teaching, and how to facilitate a group.
Of course, central to the Young Buddhist Project have been the facilitators from across the Triratna world who have enthusiastically embraced the project and organised groups in their local Sanghas. Without these enterprising individuals there would be no project to report on at all! To support this important dimension of the work to make Triratna accessible for young people there is a facilitators’ meeting each spring to help these Dharma heroes come together, share tips and have a sense of the broader movement. They also have their own space on The Buddhist Centre Online to share ideas and explore themes that are of relevance to them.
Watch Kusaladevi in conversation with Saddhanandi on the theme of responsibility
Rise Up! Reach Out! Young Triratna Across the World
“I particularly enjoyed meeting other Mitras who were training for ordination because it’s the friendships that exist between some of the long-standing Order Members in the UK, India and other places that have really kept the Sangha together. The Convention felt like the place for people training for ordination to start to develop those friendships that will hopefully stand the course of time - that’s a really critical responsibility that young people have.” – Lizzie Guinness, participant at the International Buddhist Youth Convention in India, 2016
The Young Buddhist Project is not just limited to the UK. In India the National Network of Buddhist Youth has been organising conventions to bring young people across the Triratna movement together. In 2017 the first North Indian National Youth Convention took place with about 375 participants which included those completely new to Buddhism, offering them a new vision for their lives.
Find out more about the 2019 International Buddhist Youth Convention
In 2017 the first ever Mainland Europe Young Buddhist Convention took place in Berlin and was attended by 70 young people from 18 to 35. The theme was ‘One Sangha’.
“About fifty people stayed with members of the Berlin sangha, who were so generous to open up their houses for them. There were even a few people who left their houses to make space for their international guests. Breakfasts were made, bikes were borrowed, keys were given to total strangers. This generosity was experienced as overwhelming and can be seen as an act of international friendship and shared values” – Marieke
Read the report about the event.
Following the success of that gathering, earlier this year, the second Mainland Europe Young Buddhist Convention took place in the beautiful environs of the Suryavana Retreat Centre in Valencia.
Revisit our online coverage of this year’s Mainland Europe Young Buddhist Convention
And Young Buddhist activities are not limited to Europe or India – there are also local initiatives happening in the USA and in Australia and New Zealand.
Listen to a podcast between Parami and Rijumayi who is running a Young Buddhist group in Australia.
More recently, Dhammakumara, from Colchester in the UK, has relocated to Sydney to become the Young Dharma Coordinator for Australia and New Zealand. This is a 12 month post funded by Future Dharma. Undoubtedly this will have a very positive impact on the Young Sangha in those regions.
#SuchistheDharmaLife: Cultivating Intensity
Another important development has been the Dharma Life course that are aimed primarily at young women and men. These five month courses take place in Adhisthana and give the participants – usually about eight women or men – a chance to study, work and live together in Adhisthana.
Read a report (and watch a short video) from Claudia who was on the first young women’s Dharma Life course
Read a report from the young mens’ course for 2018
The next course for women starts in March 2019 and runs until August 2019. The dates for the next men’s course have yet to be released.
World on Fire: The Future
During the 2016 International Council Prajnaketu reported on the success of the Young Buddhist project from its beginning in 2008 to 2016, and spoke of the vision of continuing to grow the young Buddhist Sangha to include more and more people outside Triratna. He noted that the most recently ordained Order Members under 40 all were facilitators of a local Young Buddhist group – indicating the importance of these groups in fostering connection and deepening commitment to the Dharma life.
More recently the London Buddhist Centre has stopped running sub-35 events altogether, and is now focussing on sub-25 events, due to their phenomenal success at attracting younger people. This a very heartening sign. It is clear that the Young Buddhist project has had an impact on our community – for some people their first contact with Triratna has been through these activities; people such as Alessandra from Brazil (via Bristol) or Prasadacarin (now the chair of the Stockholm Buddhist Centre).
The Young Buddhist Project has only really just begun to address the ageing demographic in Triratna, but it has achieved much in the ten years since it was first conceived. However, there is still plenty of scope to keep growing – the world is on fire and the Dharma is needed more than ever. As one person wrote in Singhamati’s survey found in 2014: “I might not have stuck around if it wasn’t for contact with young people, it made all the difference”.
So here are some of the important YB dates for 2019:
22-24 February: Facilitators at Adhisthana
15-17 March: Tiratanaloka Young Women’s
19-22 April: Metta Vihara Low Countries
26 April - 3 May: Padmaloka Young Men’s week
5-7 July: Taraloka Young Women’s
16-18 August: Sub25s at Adhisthana
25-27 October: Big One at Adhisthana
15-17 November: Padmaloka Young Men’s
Don’t forget that you can +follow the Young Buddhist blog or connect on Facebook to keep in touch with what’s going on!
Read all our 5th birthday reviews of the best of The Buddhist Centre Online