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One of the tasks the Adhisthana Kula set itself was to encourage people within Triratna to take a fresh look at some of those areas of practice and lifestyle that have been of real value and importance, and which sometimes have been put forward in an unhelpful way.
We look to build an Order and movement in which anyone who sincerely wishes to commit themselves to the Three Jewels can find a place and have something to give, whatever their lifestyle and background. In Buddhism, as probably in most other religious traditions, there is that perennial tension between renunciation — giving oneself fully and wholeheartedly to the spiritual task and to the service of others — and the pulls of society, family and security.
Over the next few days we’ll be looking at some questions around family and a Dharma life. There is a short introduction from Saddhaloka (below), and we’ll also have an article by Dhammadinna around her choice not to have children, as well as an article by Punyamala on her choice to have a family. We’ll also share two videos, one of a conversation between Moksananda and Saddhaloka, and one of Maitreyi interviewing Punyamala.
Others have shared something of their experience on other forums, and what we offer here is not intended to be definitive, but rather a further contribution to an ongoing discussion.
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Families in Triratna by Saddhaloka
When Sangharakshita founded the Western Buddhist Order he quite consciously and deliberately founded a unified Order, in which men and women took the same Refuges and Precepts, adopted the same practices, and could potentially hold the same responsibilities. It was also an Order in which commitment to the Three Jewels, was primary and lifestyle secondary. No way of life of itself precluded membership of the Order as long as it was in alignment with Buddhist ethics.
The newly founded Order and movement were soon attracting young men and women strongly influenced by the counter-culture of the 60s, and inspired to help create and build a ‘New Society’ based on Buddhist values. Centres, communities and right livelihood businesses began to emerge, along with single-sex activities. There was talk of a complete, committed, transformative way of life and a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and optimism was released. Anything and everything seemed possible! The mood of the times was experimental. There was already in the counter-culture a critique of the nuclear family and the exclusive couple, and many felt that it was time to do things differently.
Youthful idealism can be bright and innocent and it can achieve a great deal. It can also be naive, confused, rather black and white, and sometimes harsh. Those who by accident or design became parents, and those already with families who found themselves drawn to the movement, could find themselves wondering what they might have to contribute to the project when so much of the energy and inspiration seemed to be with those living the ‘complete life’. They could feel implicitly (and were sometimes explicitly) criticised for having chosen a ‘conventional’ family life. In theory it was a movement for anyone and everyone, whatever their lifestyle, but in practice it did not always seem quite like that. Many years on some still feel the pain of those times, which we have to acknowledge and express regret for.
Forty or fifty years on it is a very different picture. Those youthful idealists who are still alive and still around are approaching and even entering into their seventies. Some of them did decide not to have children and to devote all their energies to working for the Dharma, and we have a lot to be grateful to them for. Others did become parents, including one or two who were once outspoken critics of family life! Even with their family commitments many managed to make a significant contribution to the Order and Movement, which again we can be very grateful for. Nowadays there is a great span of ages and lifestyles in the Order, and it is a minority who work full time in our Triratna institutions. There is a lot more human — and spiritual — maturity and experience that we can draw on and it is hopefully much more straightforward for anyone to find their place in our community, whatever their lifestyle.
However it is not just a story of time and mellowing attitudes. Involvement with a spiritual community is always going to mean challenges and difficult choices. Commitment to the Three Jewels is not something static. The Dharma always seems to ask more of us, to keep on asking us to go beyond ourselves in ways we never anticipated. There is this precious human life, this precious, fleeting opportunity to be made the most of. There is this suffering world and so much that could be done, that urgently needs to be done. And then there are our very human needs and desires and fears… for a partner, a family, a home, satisfying work, a reasonable pension. What to do? What to do for the best? Such questions will always be with us, and will need to be faced afresh by each generation and by each individual as they move towards committing themselves to the Three Jewels.