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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Western Buddhist Order at 40, part VI: Patterns of life and work

In the penultimate instalment of this week’s theme - celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Western Buddhist Order by looking at some of its features and characteristics – today looks at the patterns of life and work in the Order. Following Sangharakshita, the Order has always emphasised ‘Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels’ as the primary and definitive act of a Buddhist, and has therefore not seen itself as either a lay or a monastic Order – hence, it has always contained a great diversity of people, all of whom have been able to move freely between a wide variety of different lifestyles, based on their spiritual needs of the moment.

Nevertheless, within this it is possible to discern some significant trends over time, and the four charts opposite show how two of the major institutions of the FWBO, namely single-sex communities and team-based right livelihood businesses, or TBRLs, are faring. It is difficult to be precise, but there are about 55 communities and some 35 businesses around the FWBO world-wide, not including Buddhist Centres.

The first two charts show how the Order currently chooses to live and work; the second two, whether or not Order Members have ever had experience of living in community or working in a TBRL.

The charts are drawn from a major survey of the Order conducted in summer and autumn 2007; about 35% of the Order outside India responded.

What is perhaps most striking is how the pattern is changing among newer Order Members, ie those ordained for two years or less: they are dramatically less likely to ever have had experience of either single-sex community or TBRL business.

If the survey is representative of the Order as a whole, the most popular choices were much more on the ‘lay’ end of the spectrum, ie professional work and family life – plus living alone. Nevertheless some 20% said they were supported by FWBO businesses and some 30% said they lived in communities.

For those interested in these areas, a conference ‘Getting the Dharma to Work’, is planned for September in Birmingham, UK, which will be looking at ways to develop new, enlivening & transforming teachings on “work as spiritual practice”. For those wanting immediate 'tips' we are happy to recommend Vajragupta’s new book Buddhism: tools for living your life which has recently become the focus for
Open Circle’, a new on-line Dharma course hosted by the FWBO’s Wildmind teaching website. They describe the Open Circle as an “ongoing online discussion forum in which you can explore Buddhist teachings and apply them in your life. Part on-line book club, part course in Buddhism, it provides an opportunity to explore key Buddhist concepts and be guided through reflections and activities designed to integrate them into your life.” Moving accounts of the FWBO's 30-year-long experiments in both Team-Based Right Livelihood and community living can be found in two excellent books, 'Transforming Work: An Experiment in Right Livelihood' by Padmasuri and 'Living Together' by Sanghadevi.

Tomorrow – the 7th and last in this series: thoughts of resignation, harmony, and conflict in the Order…

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