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“If the Order is spiritually united, if it is in harmony, then a truly wonderful thing will happen. The Order then will be the locus for the manifestation of the Bodhicitta…I need hardly say how much the world needs the Dharma, needs such an Order, such a movement as ours. I have done what I can. I have started the movement. The future of the Order, of the movement is in your hands.”
Sangharakshita, Looking Ahead A Little Way (1999).
The first ordinations into the Triratna Buddhist Order (originally the Western Buddhist Order) took place in 1968, fifty years ago. Sangharakshita, the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community and Order, saw the need for a Buddhist community that was a more suitable cultural ‘fit’ for the modern Western society that he encountered in the U.K. in the 1960s, and accordingly he set up an Order that is neither monastic nor lay, and which emphasises the importance of commitment to the spiritual life as well as spiritual friendship, the arts, and bringing the Dharma into our working lives.
Fast forward to 50 years later, where the Triratna Buddhist Order and movement is spread across the world with over 2,000 ordained members. As we celebrate 50 years of the Order, we take a look back through the Triratna archives…
Committed Buddhists: The Early Days
We were not so much teaching people… but we were including them in the field of friendship. (Subhuti)
There is that strength of commitment to each other, that friendship, that practice of independence…I really appreciate we were pushed in that direction. (Dhammadinna).
It dawned on us that what we had been doing over that time wasn’t really mainly building up a whole-food shop and a restaurant; what we had mainly been working on were just friendships. (Vessantara).
Looking back at the Lights in the Sky series on the early days of Triratna, the picture emerges of a fledgling movement and Order, finding its feet, making mistakes along the way, and building and deepening friendships. Indeed the Order has been described as ‘a network of friendships’. Lights in the Sky have just released a new film celebrating 50 years of the Order, called ‘The Life of the Order’ which gives a good flavour of the era out of which the Order emerged.
The Friends (Triratna Buddhist Community), Buddhism gave me a structure in which to work, gave me a direction to follow, gave me a path rather than wandering higgledy piggledy…
In the film ‘Refuge’, made in 1972, we see footage from a retreat in Keffolds in Surrey in the UK, interspersed with interviews with Triratna regulars at the time, experiencing the mundane but some how revolutionary aspects of being on retreat: meditating, cooking, eating, cleaning and living together. There’s also this wonderful montage of silent footage from the 1970s, now set to music, which bears witness to the collective aspects of the early days, as well as the hard work involved – in this case, in the building project for what is now the London Buddhist Centre.
Clear Vision Trust, set up in the 1990s to record the teaching of Sangharakshita and Triratna on video, also has film resources from the early days of the Triratna Buddhist Order and movement. In particular, their Newsreels – produced between 1991 and 2003 – provide comprehensive and engrossing insights about what was going on across the community. You can watch one great example documenting the celebrations for 25 years of the Order, which included talks, a Monty Python-esque play about the Buddha and an oratorio composed by Bodhivajra and performed by 40 Triratna musicians and singers.
After a lapse of a number years, in 2014, the Newsreels were re-launched as ‘Newsbytes’ and continue to provide video news from across the movement, only this time in web form…
Triratna Elders in Conversation
As well as old archive footage we have audio from some of the ‘elders’ of the Triratna Buddhist Order talking about the early days of Triratna and their involvement, which makes for fascinating listening. We have Suvajra, who, in a series of conversations, talks about meeting the Dharma in 1969, his journey towards ordination in 1978, as well as meeting one of Sangharakshita’s eight main teachers, Dhardo Rimpoche, in the 1980s. Similarly, Kamalashila, ordained in 1974, recounts some of his experiences of the early days of Triratna, the changes that took place in the 1970s, and how he thinks the Order and community is doing more recently.
In 2011 the London Buddhist Centre ran a series on ‘Women Elders of the Triratna Buddhist Community’, which included talks by Dhammadinna (ordained in 1973), Mallika (ordained in 1974 and who sadly passed away last December at the age of 87), Sanghadevi (ordained in 1977), Padmasuri (ordained in 1980) and Vajrapushpa (ordained in 1981) among others, talking about their spiritual lives. This collection is an important resource elaborating the spiritual lives of women in Triratna. More recently the Adhisthana Kula ran a series called ‘Dharma Life - Family Life’ about practicing in the context of a family, which included an interview with Punyamala, ordained in 1987, two years after giving birth to her first son. Punyamala shares the challenges and the opportunities that arose for her in her practice as a Buddhist mother.
Before Free Buddhist Audio
Before Free Buddhist Audio was the one-stop-shop for downloading Triratna audio recordings, there was Dharmachakra Tapes, which started recording Sangharakshita’s earliest talks in 1966, providing us with a vast treasury of Triratna Dharma right from the very beginning. One of the earliest Order Members, Ananda (ordained in 1968) was instrumental in getting this project off the ground. Listen to him discuss this early work.
Thanks to Ananda’s efforts we have talks like Stages of the Spiritual Path, Evolution: Lower and Higher, and The Buddha: Man or Superman?. Today there are thousands of talks on Free Buddhist Audio from Order Members all across the world and the website is accessible in German, French, Spanish and Hindi (as well as English).
Listen to the story of the origins of Free Buddhist Audio
The Future is in Our Hands: 50 years, 50 voices
Now, as the celebrations for Triratna’s 50th continue (last year we celebrated 50 years of the Triratna Buddhist Community; this year it’s 50 years of the Order), a new project has just launched: ‘50 Years, 50 Voices’ which is a collection of recordings of voices of Order Members across Triratna talking about what it means to practice the Dharma in the context of their lives. The idea is that this will provide a snapshot of Triratna Dharmic practice for future generations. Perhaps in 2068 unknown Dharma beings will be looking back on this blog as an artifact as they celebrate the centenary of the Order!