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On 26th August 2016 Bhante turns 91. His mind is bright and active and he takes a lively interest in what goes on in the Order and Movement. He continues to give of himself and in recent months, despite dips in his energy, he has met a lot of people. It was very moving to see the joy of the Indian Order members at the Men’s Convention when having their photograph taken with him. Clearly though, his body is frail, and we have to accept that he is not going to be with us forever. Over the years Bhante has put a lot of thought and effort into establishing the conditions that he hopes will ensure that our Order and Movement continue to thrive and grow without him. Significant steps along the way have been establishing the College of Public Preceptors, and encouraging the setting up of the International Council that brings together representatives of the College, Order and Movement from all around the world. Bhante has spoken of the College of Public Preceptors as ‘guardians of his legacy’ and those of us in the College have been working hard to try and understand fully and deeply just what that means, and take in all the implications.
Bhante has spoken of four lineages - of teachings, practices, institutions (or responsibility) and inspiration. Of these, we might say the lineage of inspiration is key. It points to a living vision of a community of men and women dedicated to the Three Jewels, working together for the transformation of self and world. However that vision needs to find concrete expression in teachings, practices and institutions. Every Buddhist tradition has its own integrity and internal unity and we too have a very definite network of teachings and practices, of institutions and understandings that work and weave together to provide effective conditions for a life in the Dharma. It is probably the case though that we can be so immersed in them that we start to take them for granted.
Recently, I have been very struck - attending retreats in Finland with folks from Finland, Sweden, Estonia, the UK and New Zealand; and in Poland with folks from Poland, Ukraine, Russia, the UK and Australia - just what a significant unifying factor it is that we do the same mindfulness of breathing practice in the same four stages; the same mettabhavana practice; and that we chant the same Refuges and recite the same positive precepts, albeit each in our own language. So it is too with the Threefold and Sevenfold pujas and the Dedication Ceremony. Folks from very different backgrounds and speaking very different languages have an immediate sense of being part of the same spiritual community.
In his 2009 paper “What is the Western Buddhist Order? ” Bhante spoke of ‘a refounding of the Order’. When he founded the Order in the 1960s the Dharmic principles it was to be built on were already clearly worked out in his mind, but Bhante did not have any master plan or detailed blueprint for the Order and Movement. In many ways he made it up as he went along, working with the people who joined him and responding to situations as they unfolded. Now, 50 years on, we have collectively gathered a great deal of maturity and depth of experience, both at an ordinary human level and in terms of spiritual depth and understanding of the Buddhist path.
So ‘refounding the Order’ then could be seen as us collectively reviewing our foundations - our core practices and teachings and institutions - seeking to understand their significance and value and importance more fully and completely. Then we can build firmly on them as we seek to respond in fresh ways to a difficult and fast changing world, ensuring that our Order and Movement can continue as an increasingly effective force for good over the coming decades, far into the 21st century and beyond.
Chair of the College of Public Preceptors