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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The British Buddhist Landscape Conference - a brief report

Taplow Court at night Last weekend saw the first British Buddhist Landscape Conference, with some 70 people from across the full spectrum of British Buddhism gathering at Taplow Court, HQ of Sokkai Gakkai UK.

Lokabandhu reports –

“I've never been a ‘conference junkie’, and for me it was a rather new and stimulating experience to spend a weekend at a stately home in the company of intellectuals and leading Buddhist practitioners. One couldn’t help feeling just a little aristocratic! The programme was packed, and yet living together just for those two days lent a real intimacy to the event, for me at least it meant that we got to know one another far better than over a year of committee meetings – the only context in which I'd met most of the others previously.

"It was also fascinating to be able to glimpse other sanghas – I was especially impressed with the culture of dana and service at Taplow, which is run almost entirely by volunteers who are arranged in small teams of specialists or other shared interests. On the Saturday night, for instance, we had a lavish buffet supper cooked for us by their ‘chef’s group’. It was also fascinating to glimpse how others are engaged in translating the Dharma for the modern world – one example was the FPMT’s ’Essential Education and ‘16 Guidelines programs.

Shakyamuni, by Padmayogini"The FWBO was generously represented, with Sangharakshita offering ‘reminiscences and reflections’ on the Friday night; among many other points he encouraged the different Buddhist traditions in the West today to face squarely the issues raised for them by (a) the insights into Buddhist history afforded by the higher criticism of the West and (b) the fact that the Buddhist scriptures are full of ‘supernatural’ beings. Besides him Vijayatara (aka Dr. Sharon Smith) spoke on People of Colour in Western Buddhism, using as case studies the FWBO and SGI (UK); also Munisha on Buddhism and Young People. Amitajyoti had organised an impressive contribution to the art exhibition, with work by Aloka, Chintamani, and Padmayogini (whose Shakyamuni is shown opposite) among others.

"More generally, there were sessions on the early history of Buddhism in the UK, with useful statistical insights – did you know, for instance, that 150,000 people declared themselves Buddhist in the last UK census? Of whom 90,000 were of Asian descent, leaving some 60,000 new converts. Or that there are now over 1,000 registered Buddhist groups in the UK? Up, it should be added, from just 30 in 1968! The diverse ethnicity of Buddhism in the UK was drawn out in four short talks from Japanese, India, Nepalese, and Thai speakers.

"Later sessions focussed on the engagement of Buddhism in many areas of modern British life – education, interfaith dialogue, hospital chaplaincy, and ‘engaged Buddhism’ in general, where a useful three-way division was offered: engaged Buddhism as 'radical activism', creating the future 'New Society' through Right Livelihood, and engagement in caring and service. The conference ended with a stimulating survey of Buddhism and Western thought by John Peacock, for many years director of studies at Sharpham College.

"Most of the sessions were recorded, in several cases by ClearVision, and it is hoped that before too long they will be made more widely available – keep your eyes on the FWBO’s Videosangha or the Network of Buddhist Organisations’ website.

"Many thanks to the NBO and SGI (UK) for an excellent weekend!"

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