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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Anonymous jr said...

Of course there is another interpretation to the small numbers of Order Members who have resigned over the years. Sangharakshita is on record as having said, when asked at the LBC in about 1990 if there could be positive reasons for leaving the Order, that to do so inevitably constitutes 'spiritual catastrophe.'

Blogger Jayarava said...

I am interested to see that the 10th anniversary of the publication of the FWBO Files is approaching. During the last ten years the number of order members seems to have grown exponentially.

Blogger Jayarava said...

Just a note on jr's comment. The so called "on the record comment" from Sangharakshita is in fact from a satire on the FWBO written by someone who wishes to remain anonymous.

Anonymous jr said...

Jayarava's 'fact': it may have been quoted in a 'satire', but I've seen it in a q&a. Have you checked this for yourself?

Blogger Jayarava said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Jayarava said...

I have searched Free Buddhist Audio which contains the text of all published and unpublished seminars and Q&A's; searched Google as well, which indexes pdfs on FBA. Zip except the satire. So where is it that I should check for myself?

Blogger Jayarava said...

Hi JR and other readers,

Lokabandhu has posted me a text where Sangharakshita does say, in 1990, that he cannot imagine resigning from the order as being spiritually advantageous. The context is a Q&A session with order members from the East London region.

Sangharakshita gives a number of reasons for this. Primarily he suggests that having Gone For Refuge to the 3 Jewels with "great faith, with great devotion, great determination, great sincerity and integrity" one undoes that by resigning from the order. Also by resigning you undermine the spiritual basis for your friendships in the order, built up over a number of years.

Resgination, Sansgharakshita says, "cannot be other than quite catastrophic". Note this wording is not quite what JR recalled, and has to my mind quite different implications. What's more having once committed yourself so wholeheartedly, it undermines one's progress to break that commitment. Potentially it sets up the conditions for breaking other commitments in the future.

Sangharakshita follows this with a fairly detailed discussion of a hypothetical question from Devamitra where an OM might believe that other order members have behaved "very badly", but it doesn't easily lend itself to summary.

It seems to me that the emphasis in the text is that resignation is cutting off of communication with friends and Sangha and that it is difficult for anyone committed to those things to see the cutting off as a good thing. Sangharakshita says "So I would say briefly that I can't really imagine circumstances in which it would be spiritually advantageous for an Order Member to resign."

It is important to put these statements into context also. This was a Q&A for order members, and was most likely not originally intended for a wider audience. You see this quite often in the Pāli tetxs - the Buddha's message to the monks was often very different indeed than his message to householders. Sangharakshita is talking to people who have already made their lifelong commitment to the order - vowing in the process to accept the ordination "with loyalty to my teachers", and "in harmony with friends and brethren". In the order we take this very seriously - I consider it a life long commitment and responsibility, a samaya if you like. Breaking that commitment would be a drastic break with my vows, and I can only imagine that this would be catastrophic, and that I had allowed the situation to get to that point, post ordination, would be a massive failure on my part to sustain my vows.

As often happens JR has vaguely remembered a sound bite, taken it out of context, made it a more definite statement than it was intended to be, and used it as the basis of a judgemental view. This can hardly be advantageous to anyone - if we are going to criticise Sangharakshita then let us at least be clear about what he actually said, in what context, and with reference to what.



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