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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) celebrates 20th anniversary

The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) recently celebrated its 20th anniversary at Chiang Mai, Thailand, in the course of which Lokamitra led a retreat for over 100 participants from all over the Buddhist world. Priyadarshi Telang, from TBMSG's Jambudvipa project, sends us his report. He says -

"The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) celebrated its 20th anniversary November 9th-17th at the at Chiang Mai, Thailand, November 9th-16th with a variety of activities. Over the last few years links with INEB have grown; Lokamitra is at present a member of their advisory committee, while Mangesh Dahiwale is a member of their executive committee. INEB was founded by Sulak Sivaraksa, who at the age of 76, is beginning to withdraw from the front line of INEB activities.

"The conference therefore also marked this period of transition with the formation of larger and more diverse advisory and executive committees, as well as a secretariat more able to coordinate the fast growing network.

Sangha and Kalyanamitra

"The celebrations started with a three day retreat led by Dhammachari Lokamitra. This was attended by about 100 participants from 16 different countries. The participants included almost 30 bhikshus and bhikshunis from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Ladakh, and Bhutan. Indian participants included Maitrivir Nagarjuna from the New Delhi centre, Pradeep Bansode, Priyadarshi Telang and Mangesh Dahiwale from Jambudvipa Trust, Deepak and Manish from Nagarjuna Training Institute, Anand Shakya from Karuna Vihar Hostel, Gujarat, and Anurag Meshram and Sumedh Sthool, social activists connected with The Jambudvipa Trust. Ratnadharini, from Tiratanaloka, UK, also attended.

"The idea of the retreat was to provide a situation in which people could experience deeper communication on the basis of going for refuge to Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, as a prelude to the four days of discussions that followed. The theme was “Sangha and Kalyanamitra”. INEB is trying to operate according to the principles of Sangha, while Sulak Sivaraksa has always emphasised that it is the spirit of kalyanamitrata that breathes life into the network. On the first day Jonathan Watts, Jill Jameson and Ven Kalupahana explored the question of Sangha in the modern world. On the second day, Ven Khenpo, and Tempel looked at the principle of Kalyanamitra. On the last day, Anchalee Kurutach, Dhammacharini Ratnadharini and Harsha Navaratne talked about work as spiritual practice from their own experience.

"Given the diverse traditions which the retreatants came from, Lokamitra tried to make it as inclusive as possible. Apart from the short talks and discussion groups following them, the day consisted of a number of periods of meditation, including special emphasis on the metta bhavana. The days started with traditional salutations from Theravada and Mahayana monks and nuns, as well as from the Japanese “priests”. It concluded with the Seven Fold Puja, or the Pali Puja led by Indian friends.

"The retreat was followed by the 3-day conference, the mornings of which included four sessions of talks and symposia, while the afternoon sessions were meant for group discussions based on country and general issues. On the first day Mangesh Dahiwale made a presentation on “Critical reflections on Engaged Buddhism” with Jonathan Watts. On the third Ratnadharini gave a presentation on the future of the Sangha, along with the Thai bhikshu, Ven Phaisan, who preceded her, and in calling for a thorough review of approach to Sangha, paved the way for her by indicating that more serious attention needs to be given to the approach the Western Buddhist Order. Ratnadharini approached the question by looking at her work and life as a preceptor based at Tiratanaloka, the women’s retreat centre in UK dedicated to helping women prepare for ordination. Later in the morning Lokamitra led a discussion on “Coming Home – the implications of the Revival of Buddhism in India” in which Dhammachari Viradhamma, Dhammachari Maitriveer Nagarjuna and Dr. H.C. Yo participated. The last day was taken up with a meeting of the advisory and executive bodies. The whole programme was interspersed with other talks and cultural events, some of them spontaneous.

"Most of us felt, at the end of the retreat and conference, that we had been able to communicate something of the enormous significance of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism, as well as of the relevance of the approach of the FWBO/TBMSG in the modern world.

"But we all went away inspired by the efforts of so many Buddhists to put apply their practice of Buddhism to the social issues confronting the modern world, by their receptivity, friendliness, and by the trans-cultural situation we found ourselves in.

"It is a great tribute Sulak Sivaraksa that he has been able to cultivate this network of very dedicated but diverse number of Buddhists. INEB has grown considerably in the last 20 years and hopefully will have an increasingly positive influence on the world over the next few years".

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jambudvipa reports on hard-hitting anti-caste work

Many readers of FWBO News will be aware that at the twelfth session of its Human Rights Council, the UN moved to declare discrimination based on the Indian caste system to be a human rights abuse.

TBMSG - as the FWBO is known in India - is a grass-roots Buddhist community which has been working for 30 years to spread the ‘Dhamma Revolution’ in India.  Creating a caste-free society open to all Indians has long been central to their vision, and besides their long-running Dhamma teaching and extensive social projects they have more recently moved into advocacy work. The Jambudvipa Trust, based in Pune, is their most active ‘advocacy’ project; their work is an inspiration.

We’re proud to reproduce here this editorial from ‘Padmapani’, Jambudvipa's annual report and magazine.

Lokamitra, their president, writes -

“The Jambudvipa Trust, under its Manuski project is at present targeting five of the most disadvantaged communities in Maharashtra. One of these, the Paradhi community, along with other similar communities, has been cruelly dismissed and marginalised by being termed a Criminal Tribe. The result is that as well as having to live in unimaginably appalling conditions, they are subjected to arbitrary killings by the police and administration. Jambudvipa is working with such communities to make known their plight and help them develop their own leadership.

“Dr. Ambedkar urged Dalits in the strongest terms to leave behind their traditional degrading work and live a life of dignity. And yet millions of people born into the Mehetar and other sweeper castes think they are destined to do only this work. Scattered in all the towns in India, they are still obliged to work in the most inhuman conditions and carry human excreta, despite the denials of the administration and government. Indeed the latter maintain this system. They need people to clean all the filth and sewers, and, given the caste-contaminated mindset of most people in India, can only turn to these people. To make sure these people do not try and break out of the caste mould, the government hands out sops like housing and a steady wage to the Mehetar community. But without education, and social support and stimulation, these result in little, if any, progress. [see photo on right]

“Manuski has been producing field reports to bring these denied facts out in the open, and working with other like-minded organisations to campaign to end these inhuman practices. Out of these activities Manuski has been encouraging the development of networks of activists from these exploited communities who can take this forward. At the same time it has continued to develop Its advocacy work with regard to the frequent atrocities these people are subjected to. Finally Manuski has been supporting the emergence of a strong network of Dalit women leaders, activists, educators and social workers in Maharashtra which has now developed its own momentum'.

“While our approach in social work is entirely secular, most of the Jambudvipa and Manuski team have become Buddhists, inspired by Dr. Ambedkar, who realised that only a complete change in mindset or attitude will bring about the social change required to destroy the extremely deep roots of caste and untouchability. To this end Jambudvipa works with the Nagarjuna Institute, TBMSG and other similarly inspired Buddhist organisations to teach people how Buddhist practice can bring about the transformation of mental attitudes. In March 2009 a three day retreat was held in Tamil Nadu, organised jointly by Jambudvipa and the Nagarjuna Institute. It was attended by members of the three most exploited Scheduled Castes in Tamil Nadu - quite an achievement in itself in that, as stated above, people from different castes rarely co-operate. The enthusiasm and determination of the participants to leave behind the shackles of their old designation and all that goes with it, is developing all over the country.

“India is entering into a period of the deepest and most extensive social transformation it has ever experienced, and we feel proud to be able to contribute to this. In the following pages you will be able to see some of the work we are engaged in to this effect. We would like to take this opportunity to appreciate all the support we get from all those who in one way or another have helped to make this contribution possible.

“Founder President, Jambudvipa Trust”

For more information check their website

 In the UK, the FWBO’s Karuna Trust fundraises to support many TBMSG projects - you can contribute financially or by taking part in an appeal. It’s a great way to get your Dharma practice off the cushion and out into the world!

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Friday, August 21, 2009

New on FWBO Features: TBMSG Thirty Years On, a talk by Lokamitra

Today we publish the first of a new series of Feature articles in FWBO News.

TBMSG Thirty Years On” is a transcript from a talk by Lokamitra given to the International Order Convention held at Bodh Gaya, India, earlier this year. TBMSG - or the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana, the Friends of the Great Buddhist Community of the Triple World - is the name adopted by the FWBO in India.

Lokamitra’s talk is a wide-ranging review of TBMSG’s many achievements over the past 30 years; an analysis of the remarkable coincidence of vision that existed between Sangharakshita, founder of the FWBO/TBMSG and Dr. Ambedkar, leader of India’s Dalits; and a blueprint, or even vision, of the future.

He begins - “In October 1977 Surata and I visited Buddha Gaya, en route to Kalimpong and then to Pune. This was before our movement in India had started. While I had deep and satisfying experiences, I was very saddened to see the temple so dirty and full of people who regarded the Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu”.

And ends -

“Over the next generation or two the equation between the Indian and Western wings of our movement will change considerably. India will soon have most Order Members including many experienced teachers, and this in the midst of an enormous Buddhist community, which itself will have an increasingly positive impact on the social and political life of India.

“At the same time the world economy is changing, affecting the dynamics of world politics. India is in between West and China, geographically and culturally, and accessible to both.

“As more and more people in the West turn to Buddhism, as Buddhism continues to return to China and is reborn in India, Buddha Gaya is going to become even more significant. All this will open vast new horizons for our movement in ways we cannot imagine at present, while at same time presenting us, as individuals and as a spiritual community, with new demands and challenges...”

His article is available in full on FWBO Features here -

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Lokamitra on India: two articles and a photographic archive

We conclude this week's series of stories on India with some photographs from the early days of TBMSG, as the FWBO is known in India. For the curious, TBMSG stands for 'Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana", the "Friends of the Great Buddhist Sangha of the Triple World".

These are part of Lokamitra's archive and have been added to the FWBO Photos collection on Flickr, which now hosts over 3,800 photographs from all over the FWBO and TBMSG.

Click here to play a slideshow of the images.

To complement the slides we have posted two articles by Lokamitra, one describing his first experiences of India and one looking back after 30 years of work helping to create TBMSG.

Click here to read The Day that Changed my Life

And here for 30 Years in India.

Both are moving testimonies of the situation in India and the amount that has been achieved through people working together, inspired by a common vision.
For further reading, we recommend 'Jai Bhim', Nagabodhi's book-length account of the revival of Buddhism in India and the part Sangharakshita, Lokamitra, and many others played in it. It's now available on-line on Sangharakshita's website at

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lokamitra awarded the Manhae Grand Prize for Peace in Korea

FWBO News is delighted to report that Lokamitra, one of the seniormost members of the Western Buddhist Order, and long resident in India, has been awarded the Manhae Grand Prize for Peace 2008 in a ceremony held by Manhae Foundation in South Korea.

The Manhae Grand Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in Korea, is given annually to commemorate Han Yong-woon (1879-1944), known by the pen name ‘Manhae’. Han was a Buddhist monk, poet and thinker, as well as a great hero of the anti-imperialist movement. Previous recipients include the Dalai Lama (2005), Nelson Mandela (2004), and, last year, President Bongo of Gabon.

This report is from Mangesh Dahiwale, who has been in Korea with Lokamitra -

“In the ceremony, held on 12th August 2008, the President of Jogye Order awarded Lokamitra the Grand Prize for his 30 years of contribution to the understanding and practice of Buddhism in India amongst the followers of Dr. Ambedkar (most of whom were previously known and treated as untouchables). After moving to India, on Sangharakshita’s encouragement, in 1978, he helped initiate the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana (TBMSG) which now has many Dhamma teaching centres throughout India, a publications wing, and three retreat centres. Soon afterwards Bahujan Hitay was started which runs many social works for the deprived and discriminated, including 80 community centres and more than 20 educational hostels.

“Lokamitra's work is a continuation of Sangharakshita's work and vision, emphasising the possibilities of social transformation through Buddhist practice. Although Sangharakshita returned to England in 1960s in order to develop the FWBO, he never lost his connection with his Buddhist friends in India, and Lokamitra was able to follow up his very strong and deep contacts amongst the Buddhists in Maharastra, especially in Pune and Nagpur, developed through Sangharakshita’s extensive teaching tours in the slums and villages of India during the 1950s.

“Now the work we are doing in India has begun to appeal to the Buddhists all over the world and is being recognised as a very special example of socially engaged Buddhism in the modern world. Through his friendships in the Buddhist East, and involvement with organisations like the World Fellowship of Buddhists and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, Lokamitra has helped to bring the attention and appreciation of many in the Buddhist East to the newly converted Buddhists of India. As a result many of them have now visited Nagpur and seen our work at first hand.

“Recently he has been concentrating his efforts on the establishment of the Nagarjuna Training Institute at Nagpur, where in 1956 Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism along with half a million followers. There are perhaps 30 million Buddhists in India today all from the Scheduled Caste communities (Scheduled Caste being the official term for people designated as untouchables in the Hindu caste system), and over 200 million Indians who are open to Buddhism because of the influence of Dr. Ambedkar. While TBMSG does not have the manpower to start centres in every one of the thousands of towns in India (which is what is really required!), it helps to train new Buddhists from all over India at the Nagarjuna Training Institute, where it runs a one year introductory, residential training course in Buddhist teaching and practices, as well as basic social work skills. In fact the Nagarjuna Training Institute has been instrumental in training 495 men and women from 19 states in India since its inception in 2002.

“The people from the Scheduled Castes still face immense difficulties in realising their constitutional rights. Many are working to end suffering due to the caste system, but, at times, lack confidence, a sense of solidarity, and basic training in running organizations. The Jambudvipa Trust, founded by Lokamitra in 1998, encourages individuals and organisations from the disadvantaged sections of society to take initiative and responsibility for their situation. It has been able to assist in natural calamities (eg the Gujarat earthquake, the Tsunami and the Bombay floods) when the Scheduled Castes suffered terrible discrimination in relief and rehabilitation work. Furthermore, under the Manuski Project (Manuski being a beautiful word meaning respect, humanity, compassion) Lokamitra and his team have created a network of over 150 organisations across India for whom it has conducted hundreds of training sessions. The Manuski project is also doing human rights' advocacy work especially related to atrocities (of which there are many) and cases of discrimination.

“In his acceptance speech, Lokamitra appreciated the life and work of Venerable Manhae and expressed the hope that this award will bring much needed attention to the plights of the almost 200 million Scheduled Caste and the glorious non-violent struggle for liberation and social transformation of about 30 million of them through Buddhism”.

Sadhu Lokamitra!

There's a short video of Lokamitra speaking after the award on Tagstory.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Dalai Lama invites TBMSG, workshop held introducing Tibetan community to needs of new Buddhists in India

Following on from our report on TBMSG's Delhi seminar, Lokamitra sends us this account of a potentially very significant meeting with senior Tibetan Buddhists in Dharamsala, North India.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. In recent years the momentum of conversions to Buddhism from the Scheduled Caste communities (as well as other communities) has been increasing, and this year is doing so even faster. Millions of people throughout India have become Buddhist but very few have access to effective teaching. If they do not get guidance in Buddhism they will either develop very strange forms of Buddhism or they will return to Hinduism and their place at the bottom of the Hindu social order. Whatever the case, the conversion to Buddhism will have resulted in no individual or social change. TBMSG has been working in this situation for 29 years. We are doing what we can through training and through lecture tours and retreats throughout India, but the more we do the more we realise immensity of the task. We cannot do it all ourselves. We have to encourage other Buddhists to help. We can offer them our experience.

In 2005 the Dalai Lama visited Nagaloka and expressed his desire to help with our work. Encouraged by this Subhuti and I visited Dharamsala in October 2006 along with a good friend, Naresh Mathur, who is a member of the Dalai Lama’s trust. We had extremely satisfactory meetings with Ven Lhakdor (head of the Library and Archives), Samdhong Rimpoche (the Kalon Tripa or Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile) and Tenzin Geche (the Dalai Lama’s secretary), all of whom encouraged us to run workshops for Tibetan monks to educate them about Dr. Ambedkar and his Buddhist followers in India.

From 19th until 21st May in Dharamsala we did exactly that. We were assisted by Suvajra, Vivekaratna, Ojogeeta, Yashosagar and Kumarajiv. There were about 35 monks, nuns and lay people, mainly if not all from the Gelugpa tradition, some extremely well studied. In his introduction Samdhong Rimpoche emphasised that the Dalai Lama had himself asked that this workshop to take place.

The workshop consisted of a combination of presentations, question and answer sessions and group work. All went very well, but the group work seemed particularly effective. Thinking that most participants would be monks we only took one Dharmacharini with us. This was a great mistake. Almost half the participants were nuns, and Ojogeeta was much in demand.

The workshop gave the participants a broad understanding of the social and cultural situation (particularly caste and untouchability), Dr Ambedkar's life and achievement, and his understanding of Buddhism, and especially its social significance. It helped them understand the Dharmic needs of the new Buddhists, and the possible difficulties, notable among which was the question of karma. There was a great deal of interest in the FWBO/TBMSG. I am sure that the workshop will bear fruit in several ways, most importantly in bringing about more interest in and support for the Buddhist followers of Dr. Ambedkar in India.

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