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Saturday, January 30, 2010

FWBO and Western Buddhist Order discussing name change; likely to become Triratna

The FWBO and the Western Buddhist Order worldwide are discussing a change of name. If the proposed changes go ahead, later this year the Order would become the Triratna Buddhist Order and the FWBO (Friends of the Western Buddhist Order) the Triratna Buddhist Community. In India the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha (as the Order is known there) would become the Triratna Bauddha Mahasangha.

Triratna simply means ‘Three Jewels’, specifically the Three Jewels of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, to which all Buddhists commit themselves in the simple but definitive act of ‘Going for Refuge’. The Three Jewels have long been used as emblems in many F/WBO situations, for instance the logo of FWBO News and on the Kesas worn by Order Members.

If the proposed change is accepted, it’s likely that a Movement-wide ceremony will be held on or around Wesak this year, a date which happens to coincide with the FWBO International Retreat at Taraloka: see for more details.

The suggestion to change the name was made on January 6th in a letter from Sangharakshita to all members of the Western Buddhist Order. His letter was itself a response to one from a group of Indian Order Members gathered in Pune, in which they requested him to change the Indian name of the Order from the present ‘Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha’ and also to give a new and unified name to the whole Order world-wide.

Both ‘Western’ and ‘Trailokya’ had become increasingly problematic for some over the past decade - ‘Western’ because the Order is increasingly international, with members active in India, Russia, Turkey and China, as well as other non-Western countries; and ‘Trailokya’ because Indians outside Maharastra find it difficult to relate as a Buddhist name - and the Order is increasingly active in many States all across India.

Discussions about changing the name had continued in the Order on and off for many years - in fact, from 1979, when TBMSG  was founded in India. However, partly due to the increasing size of the Order, it proved impossible to obtain consensus and the matter was dropped until Sangharakshita’s recent intervention.

Sangharakshita’s letter says in part -

... I hope that Western Order members will be as moved as I was by the request I received [from India], and that they will join with me in wanting to meet the wish of the Indian Order members for a change of their own name and for a name for the whole Order. Having one name for the whole Order will make it clear to the world not only that we all go for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but that whether in the East or the West, the North or the South, we are one united Order, with a single vision and a single heart and mind.

“After much deliberation, the new name for the Order that has come to me is the Triratna Buddhist Order (in Hindi, Triratna Bauddha Mahasangha), and I suggest that all Order members adopt it straight away”.

Rather than follow his suggestion to adopt the new name immediately, a process of discussion opened up among both Order Members and those running the many branches of the FWBO about how best to proceed, and when. Sangharakshita’s letter ended by proposing that the FWBO became the Friends of the Triratna Buddhist Order, which was immediately shortened by many to FTBO.

However the European Chairs Assembly, which happened to be in session at Dhanakosa in Scotland at the time, saw an opportunity to take the Movement’s unification a step further, by making it easier to translate the name into different languages - and by moving away from the many sets of initials presently used to identify it. In France and Spain, for instance, the FWBO is the AOBO, in Holland the VWBO - and in Turkey, the BBBD!

After some discussion they chose to reply to Sangharakshita suggesting that the FWBO instead became the Triratna Buddhist Community, a suggestion he accepted. They wrote -

We like ‘Triratna’. Not only does it encapsulate our central values, it also provides a positive identifying marker for the Order and the movement. We have chosen ‘Buddhist Community’ to replace ‘Friends of’ as an expression of the relationship between the movement and the Order and our emphasis on spiritual community and friendship. We have considered this in some depth, bringing to bear our collective experience and care for our movement internationally, and we would be grateful if you would seriously consider our proposal. At the same time we want you to know that we will be happy with whatever decision you make.”

The European Chairs are currently in dialogue with other Centre chairs internationally, and once these are complete further announcements will be made regarding the change and the best way to mark it. Parallel discussions are going on in the Order and again we’ll announce the details as soon as they are available.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Two ordinations in Scotland

The Three Jewels of Buddhism, displayed on the Kesa received by members of the Western Buddhist Order on their ordinationDhammarati writes from Scotland -

"I'm happy to let you know that there will shortly be two public ordinations at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre:

"Patrick Nicholson, who is on retreat now with Suriyavamsa, his private preceptor, and Paul Thomson (the ex-Dharmapala), on retreat with Smritiratna, who will privately ordain him.

"The public ordinations will take place at the Glasgow centre on Friday May 8, beginning at 7pm. I'll officiate at the public ordinations, welcoming Patrick into, and Paul back into, the Order."


Smritiratna adds some background -

"Dharmapala was originally ordained in 1969 but resigned in 1999. Six years later in 2005 he returned as plain Paul Thomson, to attend one of my monthly day retreats at Dhanakosa and has rarely missed one since, also attending the local FWBO group in Stirling. We have become very close friends.

"Last year he requested re-ordination, asking me to be his new private preceptor, and the College agreed. His private ordination will now take place in the first week of May, on a dual retreat here in the forest near Dhanakosa. The public ordination will take place on Friday 8th May (eve of Wesak) at Glasgow Buddhist Centre. Dhammarati will be his new public preceptor and will ordain Patrick Nicholson on the same day. Paul Thomson, who has asked to resume his old name, will therefore be the once and future Dharmapala".


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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Abhayaratna Trust - relieving hardship in the Western Buddhist Order

the Abhayaratna Trust’s Founding Trustees:- Dayanandi (Chair), Jnanamitra (Secretary), Shantiprabha (Treasurer), Cittapala, Dharmottara, and Padmadhara (absent)The Abhayaratna Trust is a new and rather different FWBO charity. Instead of focussing on spreading the Dharma, its objects are “To relieve financial hardship among members of the Western Buddhist Order, particularly in the face of sickness, old age or disability”.

They say –
“The scope of this new Charity is to help members of our Order who find themselves in hardship due to poverty, particularly in old age, sickness or disability. The need may be particularly acute for those who have worked for a large part of their lives to bring the Dharma to others, either directly or indirectly, through the structures of the F/WBO, living on incomes which have not allowed for savings or pension.

“The vision is of Order Members helping each other through the transitions of life, in sickness and old age, eventually preparing for death supported by their friends in the Sangha.

“Donations to the Abhayaratna Trust will go directly towards helping individual Order Members in need, or to support relevant new projects or research. Through grants we hope to bring ease to the lives of Order Members in need, helping them to continue leading an active spiritual life within the Sangha for as long as they want to. Help might be given with cost of mobility aids or attendance on retreats, for items of practical or spiritual benefit – where other funding bodies are unable to help. We hope the providing of grants towards projects or research might encourage the initiation of projects of benefit to Order Members in need such as a Buddhist hospice or specially adapted community facilities”.

Sadhu Abhayaratna!

And they’ve just been granted Charitable status! They are delighted as this opens the door for them to receive donations, whether one-off, regular, or in someone’s Will. If you are interested in contributing, contact details are available here.

They hope to make the first of many annual Disbursements towards the end of 2009.

The photograph shows the Abhayaratna Trust’s Founding Trustees:- Dayanandi (Chair), Jnanamitra (Secretary), Shantiprabha (Treasurer), Cittapala, Dharmottara, and Padmadhara (absent).

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

FWBO Websites II: Visible Mantra

Welcome to Part II of our series showcasing websites created by members of the FWBO or Western Buddhist Order. Please email us if you would like to suggest a site for inclusion.

Visible Mantra is a remarkable resource created by Jayarava, an Order Member based in Cambridge, UK. Starting with the shapes of simple seed syllables, or bijas, it progresses to beautifully-calligraphed representations of over 40 of the best-known Buddhist mantras and chants - Avalokitesvara, Tara, Prajnaparamita, as well as lesser-known ones such as the Five Female Buddhas Ākāśadhātvīśvarī, Locanā, Māmakī, Paṇḍāravāsinī, and Tārā.

Jayarava has been interested in mantras for many years, and says of them, “We often ask what does a mantra mean, but a better question is what does it do? A Buddhist mantra evokes and invokes qualities of the Awakened Mind. Mantras bring us into relationship with Enlightenment, and are a vehicle by which our consciousness can awaken to the way things really are. They are rooted in age-old traditions emphasising the interconnectedness of all things. For Buddhists a mantra may also be an expression of devotion towards, or faith in, the Three Jewels.

“As writing encapsulates sounds, so a written mantra captures something of the symbolism of the mantric sound. Visible Mantra presents calligraphy of the seed syllables or bījas and mantras used in the most common Buddhist visualisation and devotional practices performed in the Western Buddhist Order. Additional mantras from the Shingon School and Tibetan lineages are included. The main script used on Visible Mantra is Siddhaṃ, but it also features Tibetan, and Lantsa/Ranjana examples”.

Besides the mantra's and seed-syllables, there’s sections on pronunciation, instructions for writing many of the syllables, and a number of thoughtful essays on one or another aspect of mantra. A wide range of more experimental work can be seen on Jayarava's associated Flickr site, and finally, through a clever piece of internet wizardry, there’s the not-to-be-missed Visible Mantra "Shirt City" shop, which allows you to design a range of clothing and gifts, such as cups and mouse-mats, with a selection of original Visible Mantra designs.


Next week we’ll feature the Buddhist Images website – Order Member Dhiramati’s very beautiful and comprehensive online shop for Buddhist images, thankhas; and all associated items.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Western Buddhist Order at 40, part VII: harmony, conflict, and thoughts of resignation in the Order.

In the last instalment of this week’s theme, looking at some of the key features and characteristics of the Western Buddhist Order, today looks at the more difficult issues of harmony, conflict, and thoughts of resignation in the Order.

The three charts display very clearly Order Members’ answers to three key questions for any spiritual community – “Do you feel you are in harmony in your chapter?”, “Do you consider yourself to be in conflict with any other Order Member?”, and “Have you ever considered resigning from the Order?”, the answers being separated out in each case by both gender and order age for ease of comparison.

It’s much easier, perhaps, to ask questions than to draw conclusions, but the degree of harmony in Order chapters seems striking – also that among those ordained over 10 or even 20 years, over half have never considered resignation. This despite the almost inevitable conflicts most reported experiencing at one time or another.

The data comes from a major survey of the WBO conducted last year, which asked many other questions – the practices Order Members do or don't do (and whether or not they found them satisfying), the state of their friendships and relationships, their ethical observances, their wealth and health – and hopes and fears and anxieties for the future – and much more, including even people’s levels of confidence and inspiration to teach the Dharma.

Summaries of all these and more have been posted as a series of slides on a special page at Free Buddhist Audio; anyone interested in the vital statistics of a modern Western Buddhist sangha is invited to browse. Everything there is downloadable in two formats - simple PDFs and as PowerPoint presentations with built-in audio commentaries which give additional information and also offer some reflections on the material.

Comments on the survey material are welcome and can be left on this page. Bringing Buddhism to the West – or into the modern world – is one of the great adventures of our time; and in accordance with the Buddha’s insight into Pratitya Samutpada, or Dependent Co-Arising, we would be wise to understand as deeply as possible those causes and conditions that will give rise to what we seek; and this the 2007 Order Survey attempted to do for the Western Buddhist Order. To quote the words of the Buddha:

This being, that becomes;
from the arising of this, that arises;
this not being, that does not become;
from the ceasing of this, that ceases.

[Majjhima-Nikaya ii.32; Samyutta-Nikaya ii.28; etc.]

Somewhat closer to our own times, Thomas Carlyle, in his work 'Signs of the Times', published in 1829, writes -

"We were wise indeed, could we discern truly the signs of our own time; and by knowledge of its wants and advantages, wisely adjust our own position in it.

"Let us, instead of gazing wildly into the obscure distance, look calmly around us, for a while, on the perplexed scene where we stand.

"Perhaps, on a more serious inspection, something of its perplexity will disappear, something of its distinctive characters and deeper tendencies more clearly reveal themselves; whereby our own relations to it, our own true aims and endeavours in it, may also become clearer."

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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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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Western Buddhist Order at 40, part V: Changing age profiles in the Order

Continuing this week’s theme of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Western Buddhist Order by looking at some of its features and characteristics, part V looks at the Order’s changing age profile and the way this has changed over the years. The different colours on the chart opposite show the different ‘age bands’ in the Order; the different columns plot how this has changed over the past thirty years.

As the chart makes very clear, in the early days of the Order, it was rare to find anyone over 40 (colours blue and above). Now, it is equally clear that it is somewhat rare to find anyone under 40! (colours yellow and below).

As the Order has matured, it is of course natural that its age profile should have filled out, and it is perhaps also natural that people entering the Order were older as it gradually took longer to enter as clearer and more systematic processes evolved for ‘Ordination training’. Nonetheless a significant shift seems to have happened.

Interestingly, this trend seems to have been noticed in other groups, prompting for instance a somewhat controversial piece last November in the Wall Street Journal entitled
Buddhist Boomers - A meditation on how to stave off decline’ by Clark Strand – you can see some replies to this on the Tricycle blog and an earlier article by Clark entitled
Dharma Family Values or, Why American Buddhism must change or die’ on the Tricycle website.

However the recent and authoritative ‘Religious Landscape Survey’, organised by the Pew Forum, offers a portrait of Buddhists in the US and reports a more balanced picture, with only some 37% of Buddhists in the US over 50 – compared to 46% in the Order. Be that as it may, it is clear that ‘the times they are a’ changing…’.

The WBO is perhaps most successfully working among youth in India, where Order Members have been involved in helping create the Indian ‘National Network of Buddhist Youth’, a division of the "World Fellowship of Buddhist Youth". This organises large annual retreats and is currently planning a major program of training a generation of youth leaders across India. In the UK a small FWBO conference is planned for November 2008, this hopes to bring together both those interested and skilled in working with younger people, and younger people themselves in an ‘Open Space’ style event. Please contact FWBO News if you are interested to attend.

Tomorrow – part VI: Patterns of life and work in the Order

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Monday, April 07, 2008

The Western Buddhist Order at 40, part IV: The Order’s geographical spread

Continuing this week’s theme of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Western Buddhist Order by looking at some of its features and characteristics, part IV looks at the Order’s geographical spread and the way this has changed over the past ten years.

The Western Buddhist Order is an international Order with members in 27 countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Turkey, UK, USA, and Venezuela at the last count. It is still, however, based primarily in Britain and India; the chart shows the approximate geographical distribution of the Order both in 2006 and ten years ago in 1997.

Since 1997 the Order has doubled in size, but not all regions have increased at the same rate. It can be seen from the piechart that Europe, the USA, and Australasia have all increased their share of the Order overall. India, however, has seen the least increase, shrinking as a consequence from 30% to 24% of the Order. Strikingly, it is clear that more Order Members still live in each of the British cities of Cambridge, Manchester, London, and Birmingham than any other country except India…

Photographs of many FWBO Centres and groups are on-line on the FWBO Photos website, this hosts some 2,300 photos from all around the FWBO and TBMSG.

Tomorrow – the changing age profile of the Order.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Western Buddhist Order at 40 part III: Men and women in the Order

Continuing this week’s theme of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Western Buddhist Order by looking at some of its features and characteristics, today focuses on the balance between men and women in the Order. Today there are just over 500 women Order Members, or Dharmacharinis, and just under 1,000 men, or Dharmacharis, a ratio of .just under 1:2, or 1:1.8 outside India, where men still predominate - though even there there are now 57 Dhammacharinis.

The chart shows how this gender ratio has shifted over the past 30 years – and it demonstrates very strikingly how it has moved towards parity every year without fail for the last 20 years – from a very imbalanced state of over 1:5 women:men in 1987.

This ratio looks set to equalise further over the coming years – one ingredient that will likely help ensure this is the fact that among the Preceptors (senior members of the Order authorised to conduct ordinations), there are currently 51 women compared to 71 men, a significantly higher proportion that would be expected simply from the relative sizes of the two ‘wings’ of the Order. Among the Chairmen and Chairwomen of the main FWBO centres worldwide, however, there are approximately 35 men and 20 women Chairs - this time showing an almost exactly proportionate number of women taking leading roles.

The Western Buddhist Order has always been unusual amongst Buddhist sanghas in that it has from its inception insisted upon a single and equal ordination for men and women - who are themselves ordained by members of their own gender – a practice whose implications have been fascinatingly analysed in ‘Androgyny Among Friends’ by Professor Richard Hayes, himself a member of the Order, in an essay written to provide an alternative theoretical framework to the one articulated by Rita Gross in her well-known Buddhism After Patriarchy.

Also likely to assist the continuing move towards parity, last year a new FWBO women’s retreat centre opened in Spain, dedicated to providing ideal conditions for women embarking on their long ordination retreats. Akasavana, the new centre, joins Tiratanaloka, dedicated to training women for ordination, and Taraloka, our ‘general’ retreat centre for women.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Western Buddhist Order at 40 part II: the growth of the Order

Continuing yesterday's theme of celebrating the Western Buddhist Order as it stands at its 40th birthday, today looks at the growth of the Order over the years.

The first ‘batch’ of Order Members were ordained in London on 7th April 1968, on which day 12 men and women were ordained by Sangharakshita. Today the Order numbers just under 1,500, not including some 45 who have died at some point during the past 40 years. For the technically minded, rates of growth are running at approximately 6% for the men’s wing and 9% for the women’s – see tomorrow’s report for more details.

The chart illustrates the growth of the Order from approximately 1976 to the present; it only shows Order Members outside India as we do not have such comprehensive data for the 400 members of the Order resident in India.

Not shown are the large numbers of people around the world who have asked for ordination and are preparing to enter the Order: again it is hard to produce exact numbers, but they total at least the same again. Following the request for ordination it typically takes someone between three and five years to enter the Order, a slow process but thorough process of preparation which hopefully ensures that by the time of ordination people are well-grounded in the Dharma and the fundamental principles of the Order – and are well knitted-in to the network of friendships that makes up the Order. The Mitra sangha, those who have declared a more provisional allegiance to our Sangha, is considerably larger again.

Again it is difficult to be exact, but over the 40 years of the Order we estimate that there have been around 140 resignations, a small percentage of the total and something of a tribute to inclusivity, diversity, and flexibility of lifestyle that is possible within the Order. In the words of the 'Threefold Puja' used at FWBO Centres,

"We reverence the Sangha, and aspire to follow it:
The fellowship of those who tread the Way.
As, one by one, we make our own commitment,
An ever-widening circle, the Sangha grows"


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The Order's 40th birthday: April 7th 2008

The Buddhist figure of the ‘Thousand Armed Avalokitesvara’ has for many years been taken as a symbol for the Order at its highest and best
7th April 2008 will mark the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Western Buddhist Order. In that time it has grown from the original dozen men and women to the present total, just short of 1,500. To celebrate this, FWBO News will be running a series of short articles presenting some statistical snapshots illustrating the breadth and diversity of the Order – which is now, of course, far too large for any one person to know everyone personally.

These will be based on a major survey of the Order which was undertaken during the summer and autumn of 2007; the first systematic survey of the Order since the ‘Illustrated Order Register’ was produced in 1985 – when the Order numbered barely 300!

Facts and figures, while interesting, do not do justice to the human dimension, so we begin this short series by presenting the ‘Order Mosaic’ , a single image containing the face of almost every Order Member, both living and dead, who come together in the image to make up the well-known Buddhist figure of the ‘Thousand Armed Avalokitesvara’, who has for many years been taken as a symbol for the Order at its highest and best.
The image can be downloaded as a high-resolution JPG or viewed as a full-screen ‘clickable’ webpage , in this version there is a search box at the bottom which can be used to find websites created by each individual.

The simple beginnings of the Order are well illustrated by an excerpt from Sangharakshita’s diary, published in his short book ‘The History of My Going for Refuge: Reflections on the Occasion of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Western Buddhist Order’ and available on the FreeBuddhistAudio website.

Sangharakshita says -
“On Sunday, 7 April 1968, in the course of a ceremony held at Centre House, London, nine men and three women committed themselves to the path of the Buddha by publicly 'taking' the Three Refuges and Ten Precepts from me in the traditional manner. In the terse phrases of the diary which I kept for the first three and a half months of that year, and which has only recently come to light:

‘Arrived at Centre House at 10.15. Found nothing ready. Cleared and arranged room, set up shrine etc. People started coming, including bhikkhus. Started at 11.15. Welcome by Jack [Austin]. Had lunch with bhikkhus and Jack while Mike Rogers conducted first meditation. Emile [Boin] very worried, as Indians who had undertaken to provide lunch did not turn up until very late. At 12 o'clock spoke on `The Idea of the Western Buddhist Order and the Upasaka Ordination'. Then, while others were having lunch, spoke to the press. Many photographs taken. Guided group discussion. Meditation. Tea. More press people and more photographs. At 5.30 spoke on `The Bodhisattva Vow'. At 7 o'clock conducted ordination ceremony, which lasted till 8.15. Mike Ricketts, Mike Rogers, Sara [Boin], Emile [Boin], Terry O'Regan, Stephen [Parr], Marghareta [Kahn], Geoffrey [Webster], John Hipkin, Roy Brewer, Penny [Neild-Smith], and David Waddell received their [public] ordinations. Everything went off very smoothly and successfully. All most pleased’”.

Coming soon –

* The growth of the Order
* Men and women in the Order
* The Order’s geographical spread
* Changing age profiles in the Order
* Patterns of life and work

and more…

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