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“In essence, a spiritual community is a free association of individuals. You can no more have a spiritual community without individuals than you can have an omelette without eggs.”
Sangharakshita, What is the Sangha, page 55.
A Sangha, or spiritual community, needs committed individuals practicing the Dharma in the context of their own particular lives in order to exist. The central myth of the Triratna Buddhist Order is the figure of the 1,000 armed Avalokiteshvara: the idea being that each Order Member is an arm of Avalokiteshvara, reaching out and offering their unique gift to the world. Acting together in harmony we can have an impact that is much greater than we ever could individually.
There are currently over 2,000 Triratna Buddhist Order Members around the world - with many, many more Mitras (those who have made a commitment to practicing as a Buddhist in our particular tradition). With this many individuals involved, our Sangha has the potential to make a real impact on the suffering of the world!
Triratna at large
Since the beginning of the Triratna Buddhist Community there has been a strong tradition of Order Members going forth into countries where there is no established Triratna presence, in order to help bring the Buddha’s teaching to more and more people. Of particular importance has been the attempt to do this in a way that is culturally appropriate.
First up, here’s Upekshamati, who helped establish two hugely successful Triratna Centers in his home city of Mexico, explaining how to start a Buddhist Centre, should you wish to try!
Another individual who has worked to help the Dharma reach many more people is Jnanadakini, the first Mexican woman to be ordained into the Order. Her thoughts on bringing the Dharma to women in Latin America are particularly inspiring.
Maitripala, based in Australia, is doing something similar, though her methods for spreading the Dharma are a little less conventional! Listen to our conversation with her about the Buddhas In My Pocket project, connecting with strangers around the country and giving out Buddha rupas (statues) while on her journey.
And, of course, there are individuals who continue to practice as part of our Sangha even when they are not in direct contact with other Buddhists - such as Zoe Lim who is the only Mitra living in Singapore. The Buddhist Centre Online helps Zoe stay connected to the Sangha, and she says the online study group she is part of is essential to her:
Without this group I don’t think I could live in Singapore… when I do the study group I am different; it pulls me back to the anchor of my life, refocusing me on what is important. I really feel supported… I feel like I’m not alone; I have friends… it’s an amazing group of women walking this path together in very different contexts.
Why not join in with our online meditation group?
Think global, act local
Many in our international Sangha have been involved in directly tackling social injustice where they live and have been able to bring a Dharmic perspective into that work.
Meet Abhayanavita from Amravati in India, who works to educate people about social injustice and gender discrimination after learning new approaches to Dharma work via the musical and dramatic Asvagosha Project.
And in the U.S.A. we find the quietly impressive Bodhana, who has been actively involved in prison outreach for over 15 years, helping spread the Dharma to long-term inmates who wish to change their lives.
There are so many other ways that members of the Triratna Sangha have acted as the arms of Avalokiteshvara in the world: from Vimalamoksha in San Francisco, whose work on the Tiny Homes project helps alleviate homelessness to Sagaravajra whose Devon forest garden is “a lyrical response” to the environmental crisis.
The Four Sights
Others have manifested the fruits of their spiritual practice by facing the reality of old age, sickness and death with courage, dignity and integrity. Devamitra has been keeping a cancer blog recording his experience of living with the disease and the challenges that come with treatment. He has written movingly and with great candour about the diagnosis and the effects of chemotherapy, as well as speaking with us about his thoughts on the future.
In the U.K., Amitasuri, overcoming her own health difficulties, has trained as a Buddhist chaplain and works in a busy hospital in Manchester supporting those who are seriously ill and dying.
Likewise Suvarnaprabha, who died from cancer in September 2013, was an inspiration for many friends around the world. We published a free eBook of the blog she kept called ‘Crap! I’ve Got Cancer’, a funny, encouraging, unwavering look at mortality.
You can hear Suvarnaprabha express, with great beauty and strength, her decision to become an anagarika towards the end of her life, an act prompted by acute awareness of her own impending death. After her passing her close friends Viveka and Padmatara wrote: “Suvarnaprabha has been and is now, beyond description.”
All these stories of turning towards adversity with humour and grace highlight the importance of consistent, individual Dharma practice.
Art of the Dharma
One of the six distinctive emphases of the Triratna Buddhist Community has been in relation to the importance of the arts in our spiritual lives. Our community has many musicians, writers and poets whose artistry is a vital and vibrant part of their practice.
This aspect of Triratna was celebrated at an Order Weekend in 2015 called ‘The Conscious Surrender to the Beautiful’ which included a Classical Music recital and a beautiful choral performance from Triratna musicians in honour of Sangharakshita’s ninetieth birthday.
More recently The Buddhist Centre Online broadcast our first ever live recital, when the renowned Indian classical violinist Surmani Prabhakar Dhakade performed a full concert from Bodhgaya in India as part of the 50th anniversary Order Convention.
We also provided extensive coverage of the first ever Triratna Writers Convention focussed on poetry as a practice in itself.
And in 2016 we launched a new ‘story’ space and e-book called ‘Anādi - Without Origin / Sin Origen’, an artistic interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thödol) by two Mexican Mitras, Binisa Colmenero Lira (now Suryalila) and David Prats Mira, a painter and a poet respectively.
Together into the future
All our different individual practice lives coalesce and intertwine to make the rich tapestry of our Sangha. Whether it’s regionally – witnessing the collective practice of individuals in Australia and the optimism and gratitude of Order members in North America; or whether it’s internationally – as at the recent International Council 2018 where the conditions necessary for the growth of the Sangha were explored, all these stories of practice make up the beating heart of the Triratna Buddhist Community.
The Buddhist Centre Online has been bringing you the voices of a wide range of different people across our community over the past five years. And as our Sangha grows we will continue to bring you more!
Tune in to our Buddhist Voices podcast to hear more tales of the Dharma from around the world.
Read all our 5th birthday reviews of the best of The Buddhist Centre Online