What Mahabodhi has been up to
Jun15

What Mahabodhi has been up to

Manchester Buddhist Centre newsletter June-July 2012 What Mahabodhi has been up to … Just over eight years ago I started writing a book. Originally the book was to be on ritual as that was my speciality around the centre. I had developed some ideas that I, and others, seemed to find helpful and so I thought I would share them. However, as I continued to write, after a couple of years I realized that I wanted also to talk about the meditative atmosphere required for ritual, that ritual was a way of approaching reality that was part of a bigger picture and this led me in the direction of mindfulness, which is the new topic of my book. In his lectures on the Noble Eightfold Path Sangharakshita talks about Perfect Mindfulness in terms of four ‘levels of awareness.’ He explained later that the more traditional teaching of the four foundations of mindfulness, which is contained within the Satipatthana Sutta, tended to be interpreted rather narrowly and cognitively, and practised with that interpretation he saw that mindfulness could lead to alienation. And so when he talks about mindfulness he emphasizes an integrated approach which includes the whole person, and in particular includes valuing the emotions. The whole person, conscious and subconscious, needed to be brought on board the spiritual life. And this is the approach we now have in the Triratna Community. So in his exposition of the four ‘levels of awareness:’ ‘awareness of the environment / things;’ awareness of self;’ awareness of other people;’ and ‘awareness of reality,’ Sangharakshita does in fact subsume the traditional four foundations of mindfulness under the categories of ‘awareness of self’ and ‘awareness of reality,’ – ‘awareness of self’ including awareness of body, feelings and thoughts (the first three foundations,) and ‘awareness of reality’ representing awareness of mental objects or dhammas (the fourth foundation) – but he adds to them two new categories: ‘awareness of the environment / things’ and ‘awareness of other people.’ These two categories are, he says, implicit in the body of Buddhist teachings and would, in the Buddha’s day, have been taken for granted, but in the modern sophisticated West they were often overlooked and therefore needed to be reemphasized, in order to restore a balance where emotional development and maturity were included within the Buddhist conception of mindfulness along with paying attention. As my book has developed I have felt a need to try to understand better the four foundations of mindfulness, and to see if they couldn’t be better understood along the lines of Sangharakshita’s vision. Reading them, I was often quite dissatisfied with traditional commentaries on the Sutta, whose interpretations seemed somewhat...

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The Three Great Phases of the FWBO
Oct15

The Three Great Phases of the FWBO

The Three Great Phases of the FWBO / Triratna Buddhist Community Or, ‘Around the Wheel’ with Reginald Ray. In this article I explore how Reginald Ray’s Threefold Model applies to the FWBO / Triratna Buddhist Community.  One way of showing how it does apply is to demonstrate how the movement has gone through three great phases in its history: a phase of establishing principles; a phase of Sangha building; and a phase of lay expansion, which correspond respectively to Ray’s three categories of Buddhist practitioner: namely the ‘forest renunciant,’ the ‘settled monastic,’ and the ‘lay practitioner.’  And the fact that collectively Triratna has ‘circled’ through these three phases is I propose due to that fact that prior to stream entry individuals tend to cluster into groups, and generally speaking we are not stream entrants. First, I outline my impression of the history of the Threefold model in the Triratna Buddhist Community.  I then explore stream entry in terms of the ‘Five Paths’ in particular how it results from a person addressing their weaknesses as well as their strengths.  After that I explore the three great phases in the movement, which I have named ‘Establishing Principles,’ ‘Sangha Building’ and ‘Lay Expansion.’  I then offer some predictions and conclude. The Threefold Model According to Vajragupta in ‘The Triratna Story,’ Sangharakshita recommended Reginald Ray’s Buddhist Saints in India back in 1994. I first came across Ray’s ideas as presented by Subhuti in a talk called ‘How to become an Order Member’ as presented on the ‘What is the Order?‘ retreat in 1995.  Subhuti outlined Ray’s categories as a way of talking about the breadth of Order lifestyles and he explained the category of the forest renunciant as corresponding not just to the lone meditator in their cave but also to the dedicated artist or scholar who worked intensively in isolation, but who fed ideas, inspiration and insight back into the wider community. Being temperamentally this kind of practitioner, I was attracted to Ray’s model mainly because it gave me a meaningful place in the Sangha. According to Subhuti the settled monastic corresponded to people in Triratna who ran Buddhist Centres, lived in communities and worked in Team-based Right Livelihood businesses. And the lay practitioner worked out in the world. In the years since Subhuti’s talk I have been aware of little mention of Ray’s model in the Order, except for a faint ‘it doesn’t apply to us,’ with no explanation why.  But I have always believed that it does apply and I argued in favour of it a few years ago in the ‘Threads’ section of the Order journal Shabda.  This year Vajragupta gave a...

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