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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

News from India: Dhamma talks and tours with Subhuti

These days there are major changes afoot in India, and in our movement in India as well. Subhuti’s been visiting for the past 20 years and is there now – we’re delighted to be able to bring you this report of what he’s up to, from Dharmashalin, his secretary and travelling companion. Read on for news of Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, NNBY, and North India…

In addition to the text-based report below, Dharmashalin has posted the first of a series of video diaries on YouTube.

Subhuti in India November and December 2008
Subhuti has been visiting India regularly since 1985. Initially he and Suvajra were overseeing the Men's Ordination Process, during that time he ordained well over a hundred men. Then as International Order Convenor he led retreats for Order Members, trying to bring a greater depth of understanding and experience to members of our Order. Many of them lead extremely busy lives due to work and family commitments. In the last few years he has been more involved in reaching out into new areas: geographically, in terms of new states; community-wise, in terms of different castes; and generationally, supporting initiatives to bring more young people into the Dhamma.

We are in a phase of exciting opportunities, with the socio-economic face of India changing, this has an impact on how and where the Dhamma can be communicated. What follows is a summary of his activities:

The gardens of the Mahavihara, TBMSG's largest centre in PuneHis first week was spent in Pune, heart-land of the TBMSG, where he gave a series of talks at the Mahavihara. The Mahavihara was the first big centre we had in India, it serves as a Dhamma centre, and also a base for a number of our charities and some educational activities. Over three nights he gave a very inspiring series of talks, drawing a lot from his experiences during his long solitary retreat. The over-whelming message coming from those talks was; take Karma seriously. What we say, do and think leaves an imprint on your mind which will stay there. This of course is a central application of Pratitya Samutpada, the implication of this is the importance of being skilful and cultivating positive mental states. Over the following days Subhuti met with groups and individuals and the same theme kept returning. He was particularly keen to emphasis that whilst long retreats are of course immensely beneficial we can all practice effectively in our own situations. A particularly important message in India, where most people have responsibilities that mean long retreats are virtually impossible.

A glimpse of the massive Nagpur crowds at the anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar's conversionWe then went to Nagpur, the city where Dr Ambedkar converted. Although TBMSG has more institutions in Pune, Nagpur is the actual centre of Ambedkarite Buddhism in India - and the home of Nagaloka, our largest centre in India. Some estimations place the percentage of Buddhists as high as 30%, of course many of them are 'Ethnic' Buddhists. Yet even that results in a greater sense of ethics and personal responsibility. This is particularly brought out by the huge level of social improvement the Buddhist community has achieved in the 50 years since conversion. At that time they were almost all bonded labourers and the vast majority were illiterate, today we regularly meet doctors, lawyers and engineers. No other community in India has improved so much since Independence. This is an important point, it shows that conversion to Buddhism has a direct effect on people's lives, because of it's message of personal responsibility and transformation.

During our time here Subhuti has been meeting with his many friends and contacts, providing support and guidance. He of course he given several public talks, several responding to the terrible events in Mumbai. He has been particularly speaking on how we can respond to violence. Of course this boils down to practising the Dhamma ourselves and helping those who are in down-trodden states to improve themselves. Dr Ambedkar was a deep political thinker as well as a Buddhist and he foresaw the difficulties India would face. His analysis, which Subhuti drew upon, was the need to ensure Human dignity and opportunities to all. It is when people feel they have no other option that they turn to violence.

Subhuti at the Mahabodhi Temple in bodh GayaHe has also led several retreats, one for Dhammacharis exploring the Manjushri Stuti Sadhana. There was an extremely good atmosphere with lots of silence and meditation, many of the participants said it was the most significant retreat of their lives. In early December we went to Chhattisgarh where we had a general retreat with somewhere between one and two hundred participants. Here Subhuti went through the Tiratna Vandana, people responded well. A particular point of success was taking some of the more experienced students from the Nagarjuna Training Institute and using them as group leaders. This gave them an opportunity to test and develop their skills and meant there was enough of a Sangha present for the new-comers to get a direct experience of Sangha rather than simply having it explained to them. This seemed to be particularly inspiring for the participants, so we hope they will start meeting in small groups and carry the inspiration of the retreat into their lives.

National Network of Buddhist Youth
On the 12th of December Subhuti started the NNBY Full Moon Meditation event with a talk about the importance of supporting Youth and possibility of communication and harmony that transcends words. Between two and three hundred people attended and there was an extremely positive atmosphere in the shrine area.

Click to watch a YouTube video of the opening of the event.

For the next ten days Subhuti was engaged in a workshop looking at how training is conducted in India. The conversation soon broadened out to look at how we can make the TBMSG much more effective and spiritually alive, so that we can more adequately respond to the huge potential for spreading the Dhamma that exists here.

From the 25th til the 1st we attended the National Network of Buddhist Youth Conference. This was a very positive and enjoyable event. Subhuti gave a series of talks about Dr Ambedkar's message for the youth of today. NNBY has been in the 'News' quite a bit recently, it certainly is an exciting new area of opportunity. Many young people are responding very positively to the combination of fun, friendship, meaning and autonomy. The convention itself was mainly run by the Youths, with guidance and teaching from Order members but a lot of the rest being led by the youths themselves. Of course in some cases the lines blur (for example I count as a Youth at the tender age of 30, whilst also being an Order member.)

North India
Over the next two months we will be travelling around North India. Leading retreats, giving talks and continuing to deepen connections with local people working to spread the Dhamma. It is a very different situation compared to the relatively well established Buddhists in Maharastra, Casteism in stronger and people are generally still working to gain education and good livelihoods. Despite that, or even because of that, people are very keen to learn more about Buddhism.

Much metta,

(Subhuti's Secretary)

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