Triratna News

News from EcoDharma's UK “Dharma and Society” tour

On Thu, 19 January, 2012 - 10:44
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lokabandhu
Back in 2010 Triratna’s European Chairs Assembly set a series of priorities for their work over the next period of years. Joint top of their list was the wish to “Re-emphasise the Power of Dharma to Transform Society” - their intention being to bring back into focus part of Triratna’s founding vision, namely “the inseparability of transforming self and world”. Amidst growing awareness of ecological fragility and economic instability, never before has this emphasis been so needed.

As part of this, and to help explore the contribution Dharma practice and values can make to positive social change, a team from Triratna’s EcoDharma Centre set out from their base high in the mountains of the Spanish Pyrenees on a tour of UK Buddhist Centres during November and December 2011, running, in total, 14 workshops.

Guhyapati, Maitrisara, Alex Swain and Caspar Brown made up the skilled facilitation team, running participatory workshops with local Sanghas. They began by placing contemporary Dharma practice in the social and ecological context of our times. “A simple way to get a sense of how we view the current context is expressed in a phrase borrowed from The Earth Charter,” explains Guhyapati, EcoDharma’s director. The phrase reads:

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise.”

“Having explored this premise,” says Maitrisara, who’s also secretary of the UK’s Network of Engaged Buddhists, “we asked three questions:

1) What does this context mean for contemporary Dharma practice?
2) In what way is Dharma practice relevant to this situation?
And 3) How can Sangha support a shift towards a culture of compassion and awakening?”

The workshops helped participants to explore these questions both in terms of their personal practice and in relation to their local Sangha’s collective expression of the Dharma. “We were particularly keen,” says Guhyapati, “to look at the role that Sangha can have in social change. While individual practice is obviously crucial, significant social agency lies with communities, groups and organisations. We live in a time where the role of civil society has been greatly reduced. Individuals often experience a sense of disempowerment and alienation in relation to overarching national and international institutions and corporations. Re-vitalising the power of community meets many of our basic human needs, such as offering a sense of shared values and vision, as well as being an important source of empowerment.”

The workshops helped to emphasise the social relevance of what centres and Sanghas are already doing, which in many cases proved to be considerable. They also opened up space to explore the opportunities and resources that exist within local Sanghas for yet more effective engagement with the social and ecological issues of our times.

“For us this series of workshops is a first step in helping to re-emphasise that all Dharma practice takes place in a social and ecological context,” says Maitrisara. “This emphasis seems to inspire many people. Social and ecological crises surround us. When we ignore that state of affairs as practitioners, our practice can tend to become just a kind of coping mechanism which fails to actualise the truly transformative power the Dharma contains. When we name and turn towards these crises, it seems that this really begins to address the deep needs people are experiencing at this time.”

The team will be developing web based material to support this work, and plan to tour more Triratna Centres during 2012. You can find out about other aspects of their work at www.ecodharma.com. They are also developing the Sila Network, as previously reported on Triratna News. This seeks to support institutions throughout the Triratna Community to exemplify ethical ideals, especially those connected to ecological sustainability and social justice issues. More info on this from silanetwork [at] ecodharma.com (subject: Sila%20Network%20enquiry)


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