Thursday, September 07, 2006

European Chairs’ Assembly

– report of July 2006 meeting at Taraloka by Lokabandhu

This is a short report of what happened on the July 2006 meeting at Taraloka of the Chairmen/women of European FWBO centres. Since it was the first one I had attended I can’t give much of a historical perspective, on the other hand everything was new and therefore fresh to me.

24 Chairs came for the full 10 days, plus a further 6 for part of it. There were 2 apologies and a further 6 non-Chairs present for various reasons. Altogether, it was a substantial gathering of folk seriously involved in the institutions of the FWBO. Taraloka hosted us warmly and well, the weather helping with brilliant sunshine pretty much every day.

The meeting started with a series of welcomes to newcomers – 3 were there for the first time. The tradition is for newcomers to be ‘introduced’ to the meeting by a friend already present; in my case I was introduced by Ratnarashi. Ratnabodhi and Amaraketu were also there for the first time, from Croydon and Bristol respectively. A parallel tradition is the goodbyes; these were spread through the meeting as some chairmen who were stepping down had to leave before the end. In due course we therefore rejoiced in the merits of Jnanagarbha, Satyadaka, and Manjudeva, from Croydon, Norwich , and North London .

The first day was a day of practice, sessions of meditation interspersed with small groups for people to say hello and ‘report in’ to one another. This felt a spacious and appropriate way to get going. Day Two saw the start of more serious talking, with an extended period dedicated to collecting a list of ‘issues’ on the minds of those present. Jnanamitra led us in a process of brainstorming, collating, and prioritising these – a useful way of seeing how the land lay, from a Chairs’ point of view at least. There was a slight sense of déjà vu at the end of this process, leading to speculation that some of the issues (eg, depth vs. responding to objective issues) were perennial and we could take their presence for granted in future –thus, freeing us to use the same time to go into them deeper.

Day Three saw Vajragupta and Lokabandhu begin a series of presentations about their work and plans so far for the ‘FWBO Development Team’. They began with a series of 20 or more ‘Bright Ideas’ they had picked up from an extended series of visits to UK Centres over the Spring. Each of which was in use at at least one centre and potentially transferable to others. Not surprisingly this seemed to go down very well and many of the postcards on which they were printed were collected by interested parties – some taking just one or two, some the whole set. Satyadarshin, also part of the Development Team, arrived about this time and began a series of web surgeries. Vajragupta introduced ideas for replacing FWBO Day with a summer ‘FWBO Retreat’ starting in 2008 at Taraloka, this was adopted with enthusiasm – watch this space for further details... Lokabandhu outlined his ideas for a ‘Survey’ of those most involved in the Order and Movement - their interests, lifestyles, and views, and after discussion it was agreed, a little cautiously, that he continue to work on this and make a further presentation before launching it. Ideas for a web-based FWBO/TBMSG Newsletter were also discussed and it was agreed to support someone, probably Jayarava, part-time to work on this.

The last major discussion covered the proposed post of ‘Dharma Teaching Coordinator’, a job that had always been seen as being part of the Development Team but been delayed pending further discussion. It was agreed to try to fund two part-time posts, one to research, collate, and disseminate good teaching material across the Movement; one more specifically to develop a detailed syllabus for the Mitra Mandala Course. The proposal now goes to the men’s and women’s Mitra Convenors meetings and, providing they are agreeable, into a recruitment process. Hopefully someone will be found to start work early next year.

All along there was a program of morning and afternoon meditation, evening puja, plenty of free time in the afternoons, good internet access for those so inclined, and enthusiastic sessions of volleyball after supper. Giant ‘Graffiti Boards’ in the dining area allowed people to make comments on anything to do with the meeting as we went along, by the end they had build up into a fascinating mosaic and I found myself photographing them all for future reference. One comment early on read “Wednesday – the most effective Chairs meeting I’ve ever attended”, another read “I ' m impressed: people able to hold and express strong differences of opinion and stay in harmony”. Another just read “Kool!”! Behind the scenes the Chairs’ Executive – six of us – met every evening to review how things were going and make any adjustments to the program. Towards the end of the week Samayasri, a professional fundraiser based in Croydon, came to give us a day’s training. For me this was one of the most exciting parts of the whole week – I was immediately inspired by her definition of fundraising as ‘a conversation about unfulfilled ambition’ and the fundraiser as ‘the link between someone’s aspirations for the world and the possible means of making them come true’. Fascinating stuff.

On the last day we held what’s known as the ‘Business Meeting’, a tightly-structured affair where formal decisions are taken covering many of the discussions of the previous week. Generally money is involved and it’s therefore necessary to consider all the items together and see how much money is available. Most European centres have a long-standing tradition of pooling some of their income into what is known as the ‘Central Dana System’, this produces a ‘pot’ of about £77,000/year which the Chairs’ meeting distributes. The total available has been slowly shrinking over the past few years, however somewhat to our surprise this year the requests were all fundable and so the discussion went fairly simply and smoothly, skilfully chaired by a slightly-nervous-but-you’d-never-have-guessed Karunadaka.

The penultimate evening saw Adiccabandhu and Amaraketu making presentations about their centres, Blackburn and Bristol – two very different places at very different stages in their evolution. This is also a traditional part of the event, it’s a fascinating and intimate glimpse into the workings of different Sanghas. Before that, one evening saw a series of ten-minute talks on any subject dear to the heart of anyone present – a rich collection indeed.

And finally, on the last morning Padmavajra and Vajradarshini came to visit, to talk about the current state of the ordination processes for men and women, Padmaloka and Tiratanaloka. This had been specially requested by the Chairs, who had felt rather out of touch with - but very affected by - the changes in both those places. And then it ended, a ten-day meeting-cum-retreat-cum-holiday for thirty of the busiest people in the FWBO – who came looking for a holiday as well as a retreat as well as being willing to address the necessary business. The meeting tried to do all those things and did it well, or at least as well as was humanly possible. The next meeting is in January, at Vimaladhatu retreat centre in Germany , despite the necessary travel I suspect most of us are looking forwards to it already.


Blogger Viryabodhi said...

Hi Lokabandhu and all,

Well written. I enjoyed revisiting our Summer meeting and was reminded that my ambition of writing up something similar for my local Order sangha had fallen by the way side.

Maybe I could add the obvious, that for me and many - all I'd say - these meetings are invaluable for meeting friends, sometimes very long standing, and deepening our links of committment to the Order and the Dharma.

I do look forward to the Winter meeting in Germany.

much love to all,


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