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The Triratna Buddhist Community was founded in 1967 as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) by Sangharakshita, an Englishman who had spent 20 years in the India, 16 of them as a Buddhist monk. Having returned to Britain in the mid-1960s he saw the need for a new Buddhist movement – a vision of something faithful to traditional values while being relevant to the modern world.
He didn’t want simply to transplant one of the Asian schools. Sangharakshita believed it would be a mistake to set up a form of Buddhism already in existence in Asia in the very different conditions in which he now found himself: London in the late 1960s. He was also wary of adapting and losing the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching. He didn’t want to water Buddhism down to suit modern tastes. Instead he attempted to base the new movement on the core teachings that underlie all Buddhist schools, and to apply those principles in the contemporary West.
Sangharakshita started classes in a London shop basement, and in the early days, he taught all the classes, gave all the lectures, and led every course and retreat. However, he soon attracted many people who responded to his
approach, some of whom chose to be ordained. Before long FWBO centres opened, where members of the then Western Buddhist Order taught meditation and Buddhism. Following their experience of the more intensive and satisfying conditions on retreat, some people started living communally. The first residential FWBO communities grew out of these experiences. As they became more committed to Buddhist practice, some people found ways to work together co-operatively in ‘Right Livelihood’ teams and businesses – raising funds to teach the Dharma.
The FWBO grew rapidly through the 1970s and 1980s to become one of the leading Buddhist movements in the West. There are now more than 90 Triratna Buddhist Community urban centres and rural retreat centres, and activities in over 20 countries. The Triratna Buddhist Community is one of the principal Buddhist movements in UK, India, and Australasia, and is increasingly well-established in western Europe and the USA. At the heart of our spiritual community is the Order itself, today numbering more than 2,000 women and men around the world who have formally committed their lives to following the Buddhist path.
In 2000 Sangharakshita handed on all his responsibilities to a large group of senior Order members. They are continuing his work of developing a thriving Buddhist movement that aims to make effective practice available to as many people as possible throughout the modern world.
In 2010 the names of the WBO and FWBO changed to the Triratna Buddhist Order and Triratna Buddhist Community. This was the culmination of a ten-year process taking account of the development of our community’s approach to the Dharma in India. The word ‘Western’ had never applied there, where we were known by another name. Sangharakshita saw the adoption of a unifying name as a “refounding” of the community he envisioned.
For a more in-depth account of our history, you can read our free eBook, The Triratna Story by Vajragupta (also available in paperback). You can also see the series of video histories produced by Lights in the Sky.
Visit the Nine Decades virtual exhibition of interviews with Sangharakshita marking his 90th birthday in 2015.