Handing On

Sangharakshita & Subhuti

We begin with a short extract from Sangharakshita’s talk at the 1999 Order Convention, when he first announced his intention of handing on the Headship. Then follows the full text of his short address to those who gathered for his birthday celebrations. Finally, we print Subhuti’s acceptance speech, delivered on behalf of the College of Public Preceptors, to the same audience, immediately after Sangharakshita’s announcement.

‘By the time I am seventy-five...’

From Sangharakshita’s talk Looking Ahead a Little Way at the Combined Order Convention, 1999

Acceptance into the Order, or Ordination, is the ritual recognition that a man or woman is effectively going for Refuge, and that he or she intends to continue so doing. The final word with regard to someone’s readiness for Ordination rests with the Public Preceptors, i.e. with the senior Order members who conduct the Ordination ceremony. Originally, that responsibility rested solely with me. I was the only Public Preceptor. I conducted all the public ordinations — and the private ones too. A few years ago, however, I started handing on that responsibility, as you all know. I handed it on to a number of senior Order members....

...The responsibility I have handed on to the Public Preceptors is a very weighty one. I know just how weighty it is, because I bore it alone for more than twenty years. It is they who are responsible, in the end, for admitting new members of the Order; which means that it is they who determine, to an extent, the character of the Order, even determine the future of the Order. Not that all other Order members do not have a part to play, even an important one, but the public preceptors have a very special part to play. I would therefore like to take this opportunity of declaring that I have complete confidence in them, both individually and, so to speak, collectively. I am sure that they will fulfil the responsibility that I have entrusted to them with complete fidelity and integrity.... They will be, however, able to fulfil it properly only with the support and co-operation of each and every one of you, and I therefore call upon you to give that support and co-operation to the people I have named, to give it sincerely and wholeheartedly.

But though I’ve handed on many of my responsibilities — above all, that of giving ordination, public and private — I’ve not quite handed on all my responsibilities. I am still, it seems, Head of the Order. But that too I want to hand on. After all, I’m now very nearly seventy-four, and by the time I am seventy-five, I want to have handed on the Headship of the Order. How, or to whom I shall hand it on, I have not yet decided, but I hope to make an announcement regarding the matter in, say, a year’s time, around my seventy-fifth birthday — if, of course, I live as long. In the meantime I trust you will all carry on deepening your going for Refuge....

‘Who is going to be that favoured person?’

Sangharakshita’s announcement concerning the Headship of the Order, made at the celebrations of his 75th birthday at Aston University

Order Members, Mitras, and Friends.

The first thing I want to do is to thank people for this celebration. I want to thank especially those who organised it so beautifully, so efficiently, and so punctually. I also want to thank all of you for attending. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have given me presents on the occasion of my birthday — cards, presents, all sorts of gifts and offerings, not just from people gathered here but from quite a number of different parts of the world, for all of which I am deeply grateful and appreciative.

Now, I am not going to say very much this evening. I might even say that for once I find myself rather at a loss for words — which is a rather unusual experience for me, in view of all the millions of words that are on tape, and now on disc.

The first thing to say is that it seems quite unbelievable, quite incredible, that I am now seventy-five. The time seems to have gone so quickly. In fact, it is as though the last seventy-five years of life have been but a dream, a dream from which you wake up in the morning. It does seem very, very strange, even incredible, that I should have had seventy-five years of life. It also seems quite incredible that our new Buddhist movement, the FWBO, has been in existence for more than thirty years. I remember in the very early days, when we had been in existence two years, we used to say to ourselves, ‘We’ve been in existence now for two whole years!’ — and now it is thirty-two whole years, in fact a little more. It also seems quite incredible, in a way, that today I am publicly handing on the last of my formal responsibilities.

For quite a few years, I was President of all FWBO centres — all that then existed. I handed on that particular responsibility ten years ago. I also conducted all the ordinations, the private ones and the public ones, and of course I handed that responsibility on too a few years ago. But today — tonight — I am handing on the Headship of the Order.

Now, I know there has been quite a bit of speculation, quite a bit of discussion: ‘who is going to be that favoured person...?’ I also know that some people have been rather dreading that they might be landed with that particular responsibility! I have of course been thinking about this for quite a while. In fact, only yesterday someone handed me a confidential file, and on looking into it I found a letter I dictated, something over twelve years ago, just before I had my prostate operation, a letter with my sort of ‘last instructions’ about the Order, just in case I didn’t survive the operation. And on reading it, I was a bit surprised to find how I had it more or less worked out, even at that time. So this goes to show that I have been reflecting on this particular item, the handing-on of my remaining responsibilities, for some time, and that I have been reflecting on it along more or less the same lines.

One of the things I decided quite early on was that I wasn’t going to hand on the responsibility for being the Head of the Order to any one person — however talented, however gifted, however capable. I felt it would be almost unkind to hand the quite weighty responsibility for being the Head of the Western Buddhist Order just to one person.

So — if it’s not going to be handed on just to one person, well, to whom, or to what, is it going to be handed on? Let me not keep you in suspense any longer. I am handing the responsibility on to the College of Public Preceptors.

That College has at present — and it may grow — eight members, and I am going to read out their names, in order of seniority within the Order. First of all, there is Dhammadinna, ordained in 1973, in August. Then there is Subhuti, also ordained in 1973, in November. Next comes Sona, ordained in 1974, after which we have Srimala, ordained in 1975, followed by Padmavajra, ordained in June 1976. Next comes Surata, ordained in August 1976, and Sanghadevi, ordained 1977, and eighth and lastly, Suvajra, ordained in 1978.

Together with the Presidents of certain Centres, these Order members make up the Preceptor’s College and Council of the WBO/TBM. At present there are nine such Presidents who are not also Public Preceptors, and I will tell you who they are, also. In order of seniority within the Order, they are Nagabodhi, ordained January 1974, Devamitra, ordained January 1974, Vessantara, ordained August 1974, Kamalasila, ordained November 1974. (1974 seems to have been a very productive year!) Fifthly, there is Dhammarati, ordained 1976, followed by Kulananda, ordained 1977, Kovida, ordained 1978, Cittapala, ordained 1982, and Moksananda, ordained 1985.

The College of Public Preceptors will have a Chairman, who will also be the Chairman of the combined College and Council. I am using the word ‘Chairman’ quite provisionally, because this and other nomenclature may be changed in due course. The Chairman will be elected, from among the Public Preceptors, by the whole College and Council. He or she shall serve for a term of five years and will be re-electable. The first Chairman is, however, being designated by me, and the first Chairman is Dharmachari Subhuti. New members of the College of Public Preceptors will be appointed by the existing members of that College. Presidents are, of course, elected by the Councils of the Centres concerned, and such Presidents may be invited to join the Council at the discretion of the College of Public Preceptors. Other matters of internal organisation will be settled by the College, or by the College and Council, as appropriate.

Perhaps I should also mention that three Public Preceptors are also Presidents. These are Subhuti, Sona, and Sanghadevi, and for the time being there are also two members of the Council who are neither Public Preceptors nor Presidents. These are Lokamitra and Ratnaguna. Thus we have two separate but closely related bodies: the College of Public Preceptors and the Council of Public Preceptors and Presidents, and it is to the first of these, the College of Public Preceptors, that I am handing on the Headship of the Order.

So much, then, for the structure of what I have set up in order to ensure the continuance, the consolidation, and the expansion of the WBO and FWBO after my death, whenever that may be.

So — two questions remain to be answered. One, what exactly will be the function of the College of Public Preceptors? And, two, what will Bhante be doing, now that he has handed on the last of his responsibilities? With regard to the first of these questions, it is the Public Preceptors, of course, who have the ultimate responsibility for accepting people into the Order, and that responsibility they are already exercising. I have decided not to define their function any further than that, except to say that the College of Public Preceptors will be doing whatever I have been doing over the years. If you like, you can say that the College is the collective reincarnation of Bhante. In other words, they will be functioning in the same spirit that I have been functioning all these years. For the last five years, most of the Public Preceptors have been living in Birmingham, either at Madhyamaloka, or at the Park Hill community, and the other Public Preceptors have visited from time to time. In this way, they have got to know one another even better than they already did, and they have also had regular contact with me. So they know my mind. The Presidents have also been living in, or visiting, Birmingham, and they too have got to know one another better. They too have had regular contact with me. Not only that. The Public Preceptors and the Presidents have been working harmoniously together. And this gives me great satisfaction. It augurs well for the future health of the whole Movement.

So, finally, what will Bhante be doing, now that he’s handed on the last of his responsibilities? Well, he’ll certainly not be disappearing from the scene. At least, not for the present. He’ll not be retiring to the Bahamas or the South of France. He won’t even be going for a holiday! In fact, I will be doing many of the things I’ve been doing for the last few years: writing memoirs, reading page proofs (Windhorse Publications keeps me fairly regularly supplied with page proofs these days!), going for walks, visiting second-hand bookshops, appearing at centres for book launches, poetry readings, etc., meditating, listening to music, perhaps writing a few more poems. And of course, I shall also be seeing people; and in this connection I want to clear up what seems to be a misunderstanding. From time to time, a little rumour goes round that Bhante is not seeing people any more, not giving any more interviews; even that Bhante does not want to see people. That is certainly not the case. I have always seen people, and I want to go on seeing people, both in groups and individually. Of course, it is not always possible for people to see me immediately, but if you do really want to see me, don’t hesitate to write and ask. And if it is possible, if I can fit you in, I will gladly do so.

That is really all I have to say. As I said at the beginning, it seems incredible that I am now seventy-five. I can’t say that I really feel seventy-five, but that is neither here nor there. My birth certificate says quite clearly that I am indeed seventy-five! And fortunately my health is good, apart from a little high blood pressure, so I may be around for a few more years: I don’t really know. Death, of course, may come to any one of us at any time. So let us make the most of one another while we have the opportunity. Let kalyana mitrata flourish amongst us more and more.

(Note: When he delivered this talk, Sangharakshita inadvertently missed out one name from the list of Presidents. He has corrected that omission in this printed version.)

‘Not daunted or dismayed’

Subhuti’s acceptance, on behalf of the College of Public Preceptors

Accepting the Headship of the Order

Bhante, Suvajra, Dharma brothers and sisters.

Bhante has handed his last remaining responsibilities on to us, the members of the College of Public Preceptors. He has given us the responsibility of the Headship of the Western Buddhist Order, Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha.

And that, I suppose, must seem to be the end of the matter. Now we all just have to get on with it, to go away and get on with what we were already doing, and to work out what it means to be a ‘collective Head’. But actually, the process is not quite complete. Bhante himself, being a very careful man, must know that it is not over yet. He may have handed us the Headship, but we haven’t accepted it. After all, when somebody tries to give you something, you don’t have to take it. So, brothers and sisters in the Preceptors’ College, do we accept these responsibilities that Bhante is giving us? That is really what we have to find out now.

I think that any objective assessment of the responsibilities must lead us at least to hesitate, if not to run out the door! The responsibilities are very weighty indeed. They concern the preservation and passing on of the most fundamental spiritual principles. They involve safeguarding the integrity of a living spiritual community that is a true force for good in this benighted world. They require us to preserve and continue the work of Bhante, a man for whom we all have the deepest reverence and highest respect. Of course, the responsibilities will bring many joys. It is wonderful to know that one is helping to bring fulfilment to so many other people. I am sure Bhante himself has experienced that again and again. Wonderful, too, to feel that one is making a real contribution to the wellbeing of humanity in general. Of course all of us as Order members experience such feelings.

But this responsibility also brings its burdens. I have worked very closely with Bhante for many years. I was his secretary for eight years and saw him daily. I have also seen what he had to put up with occasionally! If you take responsibilities, you also have to take blame, deserved or undeserved. And Bhante has said that the founder of an Order has to ‘swallow poison’ at times. I am sure that this will also be true of his successors. Not only is there going to be poison; there aren’t going to be any Rolls Royces! Bhante’s headship has brought him a mere Vauxhall Cavalier, a junior executive’s car! And he is not even leaving that to us!

In all earnest, though, we know that we will be severely tested over the years, and we know our own limitations and weaknesses. In many ways, it would be sensible of us to refuse. But we do not. Rather, we accept fully and wholeheartedly the trust that you, Bhante, have placed in us. We vow that we will strive to fulfil that responsibility fully and effectively, until we ourselves are able to hand it on responsibly to others.

I should say that (as you have probably guessed from Suvajra’s words of introduction) I am the only one of the Public Preceptors who had any foreknowledge of what Bhante was going to say tonight. So you might at this moment be wondering how I can accept this responsibility on behalf of the other members of the College, without having had a chance to talk it over with them? Well, that is quite easy to answer. I know them well and share a common perspective with them. We work closely together, have great mutual respect, and we discuss thoroughly with each other everything to do with our work and our feelings about it. They will all have their different ways of responding, some with trepidation, others with quiet confidence; but I know that they all accept, just as I do. I know that I can speak for all of them without consulting them. I am also sure that the Presidents and other members of the Preceptors’ College Council accept their share of the responsibility. We all have a deep loyalty to Bhante and want to do all we can to further his work. So let me say confidently, resoundingly, faithfully, ‘We accept this responsibility’.

A confident acceptance

I say we accept it ‚‘confidently’. Indeed, I am confident that we can fulfil this responsibility. I do not feel daunted or dismayed by it. I hope this doesn’t sound immodest. It is customary on such occasions to stress one’s unfitness, how one lacks this or that necessary quality. But to say that would seem rather insulting to Bhante! It would be like saying, ‘All right, we accept, but sorry, Bhante, you are making a big mistake’. It would also sound like an evasion of the responsibility, as if to say, ‘Well, we will do it, but when it goes wrong you can’t blame us, because we always said we weren’t up to it’. I feel it is better to speak simply and honestly, and say that I do feel confident that we can take the responsibility. No doubt we will make mistakes, but we will keep alive the flame that Bhante has lit.

Why do I feel that confidence? First of all, because you, Bhante, have confidence in us. I have come to trust your judgement of people deeply. I have seen you, over the course of many years, give responsibilities to others on numerous occasions. Of course it has not always worked perfectly. There were some instances when individuals let you down. But I know that, whenever you have entrusted tasks to those with whom you have a close personal connection, and when you have been able to share responsibilities in a context of communication, it has always turned out well. I know, in my own case, that you have drawn out capacities in me I did not dream I had. I have every reason therefore to believe you have chosen wisely.

My second reason for having confidence is that all eight Public Preceptors and the other members of the Council have been in close personal contact with you over many years. You have trained us thoroughly and deeply. We know and share your thinking. As you said earlier tonight, we know your mind quite well. You have tried and tested us, and we are well trained. I therefore know that we can take this responsibility.

The third reason for being confident lies in our friendships with one another. The eight Public Preceptors have known each other for many years. Many of us have been friends since we first came into contact with the Movement. Dhammadinna and I, for example, have known each other for about 34 years — more or less our whole adult lives. And we all work extremely well together. We meet regularly, both to discuss business and to communicate as friends, and our meetings are always a joy. In fact, I have never known in any other context the degree of harmony and trust that we share in those meetings (and I speak here as someone who has been a member of many successful teams). We also have strong friendships with other members of the Council, with whom we work closely, and without whom we could not carry this responsibility. Over the last six years, especially, we have worked very intensely on ourselves and on our communication with each other. Bhante, the cunning old fellow, put us together in the pressure-cooker of Madhyamaloka and we have come out closer friends than ever. And of course we all share great personal love for and loyalty to Bhante. He has taught us that the spirit of friendship in going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is the essence of Sangha. Since we experience that spirit so strongly in relation to each other, I am confident we can carry the responsibility for keeping it alive in the Order and Movement.

Last but not least, I am confident because of the spiritual heath and vitality of the Order as a whole. In handing this responsibility to us, Bhante is, in a sense, handing it to the whole Order. We can only carry it out with the active co-operation of all Order members. In my capacity as International Order Convenor, I have to keep an overview of the Order. Consequently, I am well aware of its present state. I travel a lot, particularly to India but also to the USA and other places. Naturally, there are problems in some places: there are some Order members who are not making as much effort as they should, and a few who are falling short in their ethical conduct. Overall, however, the Order is very effective and harmonious. I would like to pick out as an example the Order members in India. Over the last two years they have had to cope with the most difficult crisis that has arisen in the whole of our history. They have faced it with remarkable clarity, loyalty and courage. They are a shining example of what the Order is like at the present time. Between us, we in the College and Council have personal connections with every single Order member, and we are confident that we can work with them and that they can work with us, so that together we can continue what Bhante has begun.

A skilful transition

I must briefly digress to comment on Bhante’s skill in handling this transition. The arrangement that he has come up with is very sensible and straightforward, and it solves for all time the problem of the Headship of the Order. If there were to be another single Head, then that would entail another succession in so many years time, and so on. But of course, the College of Public Preceptors will grow and will be refreshed by new members. The College itself can fill the gap created by the death of any member, by bringing in a new member. Thus, the College, unlike any single Head, will be — in a sense — undying.

I am particularly struck by how skilfully Bhante has prepared us for this handing on of his responsibilities. Now it has happened, I doubt if anybody is at all surprised. I think we all really knew, more or less, what was going to happen. Even though none of us knew the details, at least until very recently, they accord closely with what we would have predicted. Some people have told me that they thought the handing on had already happened, at the last Convention. They believed they knew what Bhante had said on that occasion; and, interestingly enough, what they thought he had said was pretty much what he did say tonight. Such is Bhante’s skill! He always carefully prepares the ground, so that when a major change comes, it strikes everyone as a perfectly logical or natural development of the status quo, and they all feel quite ready for it. Bhante is exceptionally careful, thorough and patient. I remember that, when I was a young man, working with him as his secretary, this used to infuriate me! But I have come to appreciate it very much indeed. He is able to play a very long hand (and to keep the cards hidden!), when that is the best thing to do. The rest of us know that he has worked something out, but don’t know exactly what he has worked out.

Bhante has also shown exceptional skill in bringing people to maturity. I have already mentioned this in relation to myself. It is hard to convey the blend of gentleness and firmness that characterises his kalyana mitrata. I have never felt, in my own contact with him, that he did not have my interests at heart, even when he was gently ushering me well out of my depth. There has not been a trace of power in his dealings, at least as far as I have observed, although he is able to make difficult and painful decisions promptly and firmly when that is necessary. In this way, gently but resolutely, Bhante has led us all up to the point at which we find ourselves tonight. And this is truly an example to follow. This is the way in which a spiritual community should function.

What next?

So, we in the Preceptors’ College have confidently accepted the responsibilities that Bhante carried. We are now, collectively, the Head of the Order. What, then, are we going to do? Are there going to be great and sweeping changes? Will we completely revolutionise the Order and Movement? Are we now going to get rid of all those troublesome, awkward Sangharakshita-isms that make life so difficult and sometimes make other people irritated with us? The answer is, of course, ‘No’. In fact, you probably won’t notice much difference at all. After all, in one sense, not much has really changed. The Public Preceptors have been carrying full responsibility for ordinations for a decade or so. I heard Bhante say only yesterday that there are now quite a lot of Order members he has never met. The College and Council collectively have also been carrying a great deal of general responsibility over the last six years. Much that is taking place now is happening on their initiative rather than directly on Bhante’s. All this will simply go on. At the same time too, Bhante is still around and has said that he will feel quite free to poke his nose in wherever he wants. And of course we will welcome that, although I am sure he would do it even if we didn’t!

So you won’t notice much difference. We certainly won’t be changing things for change’s sake, just to flex our muscles. We are all a bit old for that! You certainly aren’t going to see changes in basic principles and the underlying ethos of the Order and Movement. Indeed, it is one of our central tasks to make sure that there are no such changes. Of course, there will be some kinds of change, as there always have been. After all, the 2000s are very different from the 1960s. The Order and Movement have continually evolved to meet changing historical circumstances, and will continue to change, as they expand, in order to communicate effectively to different cultures and to different types of people, with varying temperaments, interests and so on. Change and development are also inevitable in our institutions, as we try to take account of the growing size and diversity of the Order and Movement. And, as before, some change will come from sheer creative exuberance: divine inspiration has played its part in the past and I am sure it will in the future.

Yes, the world is very different now from the one of the late 1960s, in which the FWBO was born, and the Order and Movement too are very different. So we must be continually vigilant to make sure we respond to the changes going on around us. Otherwise, our Movement will ossify and die, and Bhante’s work will be lost. But, again, I stress that the underlying principles and ethos will be maintained. It is our duty, as Public Preceptors and Presidents of Centres, to make sure that this happens. It is, likewise, our duty to ensure that the Order and Movement, on the foundation of those principles and that ethos, go deeper and deeper in terms of spiritual commitment and experience; and that they expand ever further, so that many different people can benefit from the Dharma. That is what you can expect from us over the coming years.

In fact, I can be a little more specific about some areas in which we would like to see progress in the near future. As you probably know, we have regular meetings of the College and the College Council. Also, there is a standing committee of College Council members that meets frequently at Madhyamaloka, in order to keep all aspects of the Movement and Order under review. We continually discuss, in all these meetings, how we can help the Order and Movement fulfil their aims more fully and effectively. Of course we can’t do anything alone. Whatever ideas we may produce, we must involve others in discussing them, and win the consent and support of all to whom they are relevant. We cannot force things on people, and indeed we don’t want to.

To enlarge upon this, I want to say something now about three areas that we have been thinking about, and in which some initiatives are already under way.

Strengthening the international character of the Movement

The first is concerned with strengthening the international character of the Movement. We want to emphasise that the Movement addresses itself to the entire world. Of course, it started its life in England, but it has already spread to some 30 countries around the globe. (That is, we have at least some activities or representation in that many countries.) Of course, the UK still has the greatest number of Order members. Approximately 60% of Order members live and work in Great Britain. The largest concentration of activities is here in the UK, and the Movement here is more highly developed than it is anywhere else as yet. However, it is growing in strength in the United States, in continental Europe, in Australasia, and elsewhere. More significantly, a quarter of Order members live in India and the Movement there has the full range of institutions, some of which are now very mature.

We therefore need to recognise and embrace the international character of the Movement and Order much more than we presently do. Of course this is important precisely because the world is so much more open and interconnected than it ever has been before. We can’t ignore what is going on elsewhere. In the world today, everything affects everything else. If the Dharma is to have an effect anywhere it must have an effect everywhere. Besides, people from different nations and cultures throughout the world face very similar issues, as the processes of modernisation and globalisation change the lives of more and more people. Many of those people would benefit from the approach to the Dharma that we have in the FWBO/TBMSG. We must therefore speak to those people not just as an English Movement, nor even as a Western Movement, but simply as a Buddhist Movement relevant to the whole modern world.

We should welcome the increasingly international nature of our Movement, not just because of its effect in bringing the Dharma to ever more people, but also as a stimulus to our own spiritual growth. The more international we become, the more we transcend our own cultural, political, and national limitations. Naturally, people tend to over-identify with their own ‘patch’. We don’t realise how much of what we take for granted is just our own local habits and culture. Meeting people from different cultures as equal members of the same spiritual fellowship helps us to transcend our own narrow conditioning.

Having recognised all this, however, we must go on to ask ourselves what consequences arise from embracing the international character of the Movement. I have four points to make on this question.

First of all, it means publicly identifying ourselves as international. That means presenting ourselves under a name that shows us to be international. It is obvious that people from outside the Western world might not feel attracted to being a member of a ‘Western’ Buddhist Order. Even a sizeable proportion of people born in, or living in, the West might be reluctant to identify with that. Perhaps, for many of us, the word ‘Western’ has a quite positive, modern ring: it means that we are trying to practise Buddhism ‘authentically’ within our own culture. But there are people, perhaps even in the West, who don’t altogether feel happy about Westernisation and its effects; and such unease is definitely found in countries that are not part of the West. It is certainly to be seen in India. I have also encountered it amongst Chinese people in Singapore.

Until now we have addressed this problem only by the limited expedient of using two different names. In India our Movement is known as Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayak Gana, and the Order is known as Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha. But this solution has drawbacks. First of all, outsiders may get confused. Worse still, some people may even try to turn the fact that we use two names to our disadvantage, by arguing (for example) that the Movement in India is something separate from the one in the West, and that the two should be detached from each other. An attempt to do this occurred in India quite recently. But, even more significantly, I think this double nomenclature has an effect on our own thinking that we don’t fully recognise. Order members in the West may identify themselves with the Western Buddhist Order, while those in India may think that they belong to Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha, with each group tending to think of the other one as somehow different from itself. Of course, we wouldn’t give voice to such an idea, but having two names does imply two identities. I think we should not do anything even to imply such a thing.

Many of you will know that we are considering new names for the Order and Movement. We have proposed that the Order be called the Buddhayana Mahasangha, and that the Movement be known as the Buddhayana Mandala. You may also know that we had some hopes — not very confident hopes, perhaps — of launching those new names today. Well, we are not going to do it, just yet. We have been consulting Order members over the last four months. The overwhelming majority of those who have responded see change as essential, and a significant majority of those replying accept the proposal. But some people have raised serious questions that need further discussion. We want a much higher degree of consensus before we go ahead, even if it is unlikely that we will get full agreement. So we are going to discuss the matter further amongst ourselves in the College and Council, and within the Order too. We may modify our original proposal. We will announce something early next year, at least as to what we are going to do next, even if it is only to defer a decision once again. But one thing is sure: we must find a new name before too much longer, if we are to be an international Movement; and we are determined to find one.

The second point in this theme of strengthening our international character is the need to allow for distinctive local identities, within the wider context of the universal principles of the Movement. Internationalism means having an overall identity, but it also means responding appropriately to particular circumstances, wherever our Movement takes root. After all, the world is made up of many different cultures and we cannot expect them all to function in the same way, or to live out our principles in an identical manner. We are not exporting a finished product, which we expect others simply to put on like a suit of clothes, ‘off the peg’, without regard to their own specific needs, customs and temperaments.

We want to share certain general principles and practices, such as the primacy of going for Refuge, our public Centres, our single-sex communities, our team-based right livelihood businesses, and so on. These things, we believe, are either intrinsically universal or at least applicable all over the world in the modern age. Nevertheless, they will manifest themselves in different ways in different contexts. For instance, in India we have all the same principles and basic institutions as in the UK, but they are very Indian in character, not at all British. Similarly, we need to allow each region to develop a full set of the primary institutions of the Movement of its own and with its own distinctive local character. Each region has to have its own Order Convenor, Mitra Convenor, ordination process, and so on. Each of these will be, as it were, a unique embodiment of the essential principles of the Movement, developing in accordance with local needs but in full, harmonious communion with all the others. In this way, we will be able to relate more fully and effectively to each local environment. In fact, this is what we already do; we just need to make it more conscious and develop it further.

The fulfilment of such an ideal necessitates very strong links between these distinct, autocephalous regions. Otherwise, divisions on matters of principle will open up, and eventually schism will occur. There will have to be links at every level between all regions. The links will take many forms. For example, many Order members from every region will visit their fellows in different regions. Some will go to live and work in different regions for periods of years. A few will even move to another region permanently. There will have to be a constant dialogue and exchange between all corners of the Movement. We will also need an accepted common medium of communication. In this context, Bhante has emphasised the use of English in the foreseeable future, since English is widely accepted as the main international language at present. Of course, this may change and in any case it does not mean that everybody will have to learn English, or that they will be excluded from participating in the exchanges if they can’t speak it.

On the subject of visitors to other parts of the Movement, I should mention that the Indian Chairmen have asked us to announce that they are now happy for Western visitors to come to our Centres in India. You probably know that, because of recent difficulties (such as bad publicity and the danger of public reaction), the Indian Order members thought it was best that Westerners kept away from our Centres in India for a while. This was not because they wanted us to keep away but because they felt it was dangerous. But the danger has substantially passed, at least for the time being, so they are once again very happy to receive Western visitors. However, they ask that we bear in mind certain things that will make such visits easier both for the hosts and the visitors.

First of all, visitors should not just ‘turn up’ unexpectedly at a Centre. Indians are extremely hospitable and if somebody turns up, they will drop everything and look after them, even though this may be to the detriment of whatever else they are doing. Westerners often do not realise, when they visit an Indian Centre, that their hosts are interrupting important work in order to look after them. We should be careful not to be a burden on our kind Indian friends. Please contact them and make an arrangement before you go. I know this is not always very easy, but even if you don’t get a reply, it doesn’t mean that you can just appear there, unannounced. It could be very inconvenient for them.

I should also stress that if you do go to visit the Movement in India, you should not engage in public activities, such as giving talks. You would thereby breach the legal terms of your visa and it may cause difficulties. Finally, and most importantly perhaps, Westerners need to be very sensitive to local Indian customs. We should exercise great decorum of dress and behaviour and we should be especially careful of how we conduct ourselves in relation to the opposite sex. It is not that Indian Order members won’t understand. They do appreciate that we have different social norms. But local people, outside the Order and Movement, may react against breaches of Indian social conventions. When they react, they won’t cause trouble for the Western visitor concerned; but they will certainly cause it for the Indian Order members. So, if we don’t behave appropriately, we may bring problems down on the heads of our Indian brothers and sisters. I recommend that you get advice on Indian social conventions and etiquette before you go.

But, whilst you should be a little careful, you need have no doubt of receiving a warm welcome. In fact, it is very valuable and even necessary that such visits and exchanges take place, and that people thereby get an experience of the Movement outside their home country, whether they are Friends, Mitras or Order members.

In addition to such visits and exchanges, the Preceptors’ College and its Council are themselves, among other things, an important means for ensuring the unity of the Movement. They keep dialogue going between senior Order members in each region. At the moment, most of the members of the College and Council are British, or at least naturalised British, but we certainly hope that before long there will be College and Council members from other regions. It is extremely important that senior Order members from around the whole Order, internationally, are in good communication with each other, even though they come from a variety of cultures, each of which may have a somewhat different approach to the Dharma and to the Movement.

Finally, the Preceptors’ College itself must remain unified, and it is therefore vital that there continue to be strong personal bonds between Public Preceptors, as there are now. When we introduce new members to the College, we will be doing so on the basis of our strong personal connections with them. Moreover, we will make sure that those connections are maintained. As I have said, we hope that there will be Public Preceptors from other cultures before too long. When that happens, we will continue to strengthen our friendships with each other, as we do now. In this way we will help to unify the Movement and we will ensure a common understanding of the meaning of ordination, and a common standard for it.

My next point under the heading of strengthening the international character of the Movement is both simple and obvious. We want it to expand more vigorously. We want to see it go into different countries, and also into different cultures within those countries where it already has a presence. We would like to see some of the 500 Order members in the UK setting off for new countries. Given the relatively small size of the Order, 500 Order members are certainly too high a proportion of the Order to have in just one country. In fact, of the remainder, 220 are in India, so that leaves only about 160 outside either Britain or India. That is really not enough and I think that young Order members in particular (and some of the old ones too!) should think of going to a new country and establishing a Centre there. We want to encourage this strongly. Perhaps we can find ways in which we can support people to do it, so that they are not left too much on their own, as has sometimes been the case in the past.

My final point under the heading of the international aspect or the Movement is perhaps simply a corollary of those I have already made. It is very important that we make stronger efforts to bridge the gap between our Movement in India and in the West. After all, this is the biggest cultural divide that we span. Nowhere else do we have quite such a wide gap. (The British and the Spanish are very different, but I assure you that the Indians and the British are much more different!) So we need to put much more work into bridging that cultural gulf. It is especially on the Western side that we need to do this. The Indian Order members are really quite good at it already. Many Western Order members have been to visit or work with them in India, so they have thought quite a bit about this issue. They appreciate their links with the international Order. But I think that we in the West are held back by false assumptions. We think we are the cosmopolitan ones, but actually we are quite parochial — quite complacent within our own Western culture. We don’t realise just how differently other people look at things. We need to put a great deal more effort into bridging the gap between us and our brothers and sisters in India, especially by learning more about them.

As an example of our present ignorance, I could mention how little most of us in the West know about Dr Ambedkar. Yet Dr Ambedkar is highly important to our brothers and sisters in India. He brought them the Dharma, and he had some very important things to say. If only out of fellow feeling, it is our duty to try to understand much better who Dr Ambedkar was, what he taught and what his place is in the lives of our Indian friends. Of course, another important thing that we can do is simply make friends with the Indian Order members who are over here. There are, I am glad to say, more and more of them. Indeed, there is a whole row of them sitting in front of me as I speak; and every time there is a public event like this, nowadays, we look around and notice Indian Order members. I am very glad that is happening, and it is a trend that I want to strengthen. But that requires help, of course, especially financial help. We need to find ways of bringing Indian Order members to the West, and then we need to look after them very well (remembering how well they look after us when we go there). By getting to know them, we can bridge the gap between the East and the West.

So that is the first of the three current developments that I want to speak about tonight: the attempt to make the Movement and Order much more international in character.

Meeting the challenge of the thousand arms

My second general topic is what I would call meeting the challenge of a thousand arms. In the year 2002, at current rates of growth, there will be 1000 Order members in the world. And of course this growing size brings its own challenges.

Firstly, there is the issue of how we go about making decisions and discussing topics of general interest or concern. The context for this has changed beyond recognition since the Order was born. I remember our very first Order Convention in 1974. There were perhaps as few as twenty of us, sitting around Bhante in a small room, discussing what needed to be discussed. That kind of intimacy amongst the whole Order has not been possible for many years. Nevertheless, there still needs to be discussion. And since we value harmony so highly, that discussion often needs to involve virtually every Order member.

We have been faced with precisely this challenge in relation to the proposed name change. How on earth does one consult eight hundred and seventy people, when all of them have got their own opinions and all of those opinions are so different? If everybody had their own choice of name, we would have eight hundred and seventy different names for the Order! I have had another experience of the same phenomenon in a different context recently. As some of you will know, I recently published in Madhyamavani an article in which (with the backing of the other Preceptors, I hasten to add) I made a proposal for a marriage ceremony within the Order. The idea, to summarise it very briefly, was for a ceremony that could be used when a male and female Order member want to make a commitment of fidelity to each other as the basis for raising children, and to place that in the context of their going for Refuge. The responses that I got were, to say the least, mixed. Some people asserted that my suggestion really marked the end of the Order: it was all over, they said, now that we were encouraging people to get married and to forget spiritual life! On the other hand, I also had responses saying, in effect, ‘Really, Subhuti, this is too timid and half-hearted. You really haven’t faced up to the issue at all. Come on, let’s just have a general wedding ceremony for anyone who fancies getting hitched!’ I paraphrase a little, but that was the gist. Well, I suppose that if one has annoyed people equally on both sides, one must be following the middle way. So I judge that I probably got it about right!

In all earnest, how on earth do you make decisions when there is such a wide range of views? Of course, the variety and independence of thinking is in itself a good thing. I am certainly not arguing that people should not have their own responses and opinions. Whatever we in the College and Council want to do, we can only do it with the active co-operation of other Order members. We need to find effective ways of facilitating this co-operation, given the ever-increasing size of the Order. I have initiated a series of meetings with Order Chapters at Madhyamaloka, as a means of creating deeper dialogue about the Order, and I am looking forward to seeing what insights emerge from this.

We want, in particular, to strengthen the Order regions, encouraging them to function as forums for deeper discussion and communication, so that it isn’t necessary for every Order member to attempt to talk to the whole Order simultaneously (which in fact is not possible and hasn’t been for many years). The best way to meet the challenge seems to be to strengthen regional identities and organisations. This, of course, reflects in a different context what I suggested under the heading of strengthening our international character. Each Order member needs to belong to a unit of the Order that is near at hand and is bigger than his or her Chapter, but is smaller than the Order as a whole. Of course the regions all are — and will remain — part of the same Order; and, as I have explained, we need constantly to build and renew links between them, to make sure that they are unified.

This need for regional forums is something we are currently considering and learning about (‘on the hoof’, as it were!) in connection with the matter of the name change. We do ask for Order members’ co-operation and patience over this process. Sometimes I get the impression that, when you ask people to comment on something, they only turn their attention to it when they are in a bit of a mood! As a result, their response is either a bit impatient and irritable, or else it seems to imply that they suspect hidden motives! Please believe that we are genuinely looking for consensus and that it is extremely difficult for us to consult so many people. The process will be much easier if everyone accepts that we have good intentions (and of course the great majority of Order members and others throughout the Movement do accept this). Meanwhile, as an Order, we all need to learn how to conduct this sort of discussion more effectively. The College and Council will be working on devising some means through which such consultations can take place more smoothly.

The second point under the heading of meeting the challenge of the thousand arms is that we consider that there needs to be much more spiritual training available to Order members, especially in the first five years after their ordination.

I have long been impressed by the fact that, in the vinaya, it is said that a new monk, during his first five years, is undergoing a period of ‘reliance’ (nissaya) on his Preceptor. This means that he remains in direct contact with his Preceptor, often literally living with him, and certainly under his close personal guidance. Well, perhaps we can’t go as far as requiring new Order members to actually live with their Preceptors! Nevertheless, I am convinced that something like the period of nissaya needs to be recognised as normal and necessary in our Order — a situation where the new Order member has a much closer connection with his or her Preceptors than has generally been the case to date.

In general, there needs to be a lot more in terms of retreats and study. Unless this side of things is kept alive, we will lose contact with the essential principles of going for Refuge. Of course, we already have some very good institutions that support meditation and study. For example, we have Vajraloka, our men’s meditation centre, and Taraloka, which is taking a growing role in the support of meditation practice within the women’s wing. If we don’t keep up an emphasis on meditation (in particular), we have little hope of retaining our spiritual vitality. So the College will strongly encourage the development of higher standards for the spiritual training of Order members, the results of which are sure to be of benefit to Mitras and Friends, too.

Thirdly and finally under the heading of meeting the challenge of the thousand arms, we feel that we must strengthen the principle of kalyana mitrata. I have already mentioned that Order members in their first five years, and perhaps even longer, need a lot of personal guidance. Perhaps they don’t always need guidance in the sense of ‘detailed advice’, but they certainly need contact with somebody who is more spiritually mature than they are. So we want to find out how we can help new Order members to have that experience. In my own case, I remember clearly the benefit I derived from regular contact with Bhante, especially during my early years as an Order member, (that is, the first 30 years or so!). The Public Preceptors at the moment are discussing some possible developments within the ordination process that we hope will strengthen this element.

Spreading the Dharma

And so I come to the third and last of the three main areas with which the College and Council are concerned at the moment: spreading the Dharma. The Dharma is urgently needed. So many people could respond if it was available to them. So many people are, as it were, spiritually starving for lack of contact with the Buddha’s teaching.

We have all benefited so much from the Dharma and specifically from the Movement. I know I can assert this confidently to an audience like the one before me tonight, which has gathered here in order to show appreciation of and gratitude to Bhante. We have all gained a lot from his teaching. And if we truly realise how much we have benefited, we are bound to feel grateful and want to make the Dharma available to others. That is really the best way we can express our gratitude. And we could do so much more than we do at the moment to reach out to new people throughout the world.

In the College and Council, we have been thinking that perhaps the Movement needs to reorganise itself, at least to some extent, so that it can spread the Dharma more effectively. I think the Chairmen and the Presidents need to give this urgent consideration. Are we really using the resources we have as effectively as we can to reach as many people as we could? I am fairly sure that we could be more effective in this. In this connection, I am glad that, from the first of January, there will be a full-time secretary to the Chairmen’s meeting. And I am also pleased that the job will be taken by Surana, that very capable man, who has been the mastermind behind today’s wonderful (and, as Bhante said, efficiently organised) event. I hope that Surana will help the Chairmen to find ways to spread the Dharma much more effectively, especially in the United Kingdom, where those 500 Order members are a tremendous resource for the task.

Another vital resource that needs attention is the Dharmacharini. There are many Centres in the UK and elsewhere that have no women Order members. Yet one of the basic principles that Bhante has taught us, and that we will continue to uphold faithfully, is the idea that, generally speaking, close friendship and spiritual guidance is likely to come from members of one’s own sex. Women, on the whole, need other women as friends and teachers. Men need other men. Of course, it is not an iron law. It is not that men can never benefit from women or women from men. But the principle is generally true. For effective spiritual friendship, we generally need people of our own sex. So women coming to those Centres need women to guide them.

Now, there are in fact more than 150 women Order members in the UK, so clearly we just need to arrange things so that their Dharmacharini power is more evenly distributed. In this connection, I should say how delighted I am that two Dharmacharinis, Gunasiddhi and Satyapada, are setting a precedent: they are going to set up a Centre in Inverness. I think this is the first time that Dharmacharinis alone have gone to set up a Centre. And I am sure that before long they will be complaining that no Dharmacharis are there to look after the men.

So we have been thinking about this, and we certainly urge the Dharmacharinis collectively to think about it too. Over the coming months and years, we will be discussing how we can be more effective in spreading the Dharma to women. Can we provide more support, both moral and even material? But, in the end it is a matter of personal initiative. We must feel strongly enough the urge to take the Dharma to others; we must realise deeply enough how much we ourselves have benefited. We will then do what we can, either by our own actions or by supporting others.

Of course, the expansion of activities and institutions must always be on the basis of deepening of going for Refuge. We are not just uttering words, nor are we merely setting up an organisation. We are communicating a spirit. Accordingly, we need to have imbibed that spirit deeply ourselves — the spirit of friendship, of the Dharma, of deep meditation. Depth depends ultimately on personal effort and dedication. But it also depends on supportive conditions. Everyone who has been on retreat will know what I mean. ‘Supportive conditions’ mean situations in which one can come into vigorous and inspiring contact with others on the basis of the Dharma. Apart from on retreats, such situations are found in single-sex communities and team-based right livelihood businesses.

Of course, not everyone can or wants to involve themselves in these institutions, and it is not obligatory. Indeed, not everyone who participates in them necessarily always benefits from them, because they don’t always work as well as they should. But, in general, those who live and work in them make noticeable progress. This is very obvious to those responsible for the ordination process. From their vantage point, they can see that the people who are working and living in those situations really have more wind in their sails. It is generally easier to make an effort if you are in those conditions. Those who are not in them can still make progress, but they have to rely much more on their own personal efforts. Even those who do not live and work in such situations benefit from their existence. These institutions are the foundations of the Movement, together with our Centres, and they provide the essential support to the living of the spiritual life.

The expansion of the Movement is likely to depend in large measure upon the preservation and expansion of these institutions that support intensification and depth. So we will continue to emphasise and uphold them. We will foster the establishment of such institutions where they do not already exist. There are several places in the Movement where they are sadly lacking and their absence is noticeable in the general atmosphere.

There is much more I could say under this heading of expansion, and when I was preparing this talk I found myself building up a ‘head of steam’ that probably belongs to another talk, so I won’t pursue the theme further now. Let’s see what emerges in the near future.

But I do want to make one final point here. The FWBO emerged in England out of the ‘alternative society’, or rather, most of us who became involved in it emerged out of the alternative society. Bhante certainly didn’t, although he dipped his toes into it. Accordingly, most of us who came to the Movement saw ourselves as moving away from conventional society. In many ways that was a positive act of renunciation. It was from that process that those wonderful institutions I have just been speaking of came into existence. But we need to have a stronger impact on society as a whole, not just on the fringes, not just on those who think of themselves as pursuing an alternative.

This is something that we need to address much more fully. We need to identify ourselves more decisively as part of the wider society. I certainly don’t mean that we should conform to that society and seek conventional acceptance. The point is that we must address the strong need that exists in modern culture for real values. It strikes me more and more that there is a great vacuum in modern culture. Buddhism has a lot to offer in terms of clarity about life’s purpose and about moral principles. This is especially relevant today. The FWBO offers Buddhism to the modern world in a particularly cogent form. We must make sure that the Buddhist voice is heard more clearly and loudly in society as a whole. The College and Council will certainly be addressing this area.

I have outlined some of the areas where you can expect to see us to encouraging or initiating change. We will foster the development of a stronger international identity. We will look for ways to meet the challenge of the Order’s growing size. We will work towards the expansion and deepening of the Movement. Of course, those of you who are attentive will notice that these are all points that Bhante himself has made many times in the past. The line we will be following is the old-time Sangharakshita Dharma. There will be no revolutionary ordinances. We will continue to guard the principle of going for Refuge to the Three Jewels as central to the Buddhist life. We will do it by going for Refuge more deeply and fully ourselves, by encouraging others to do so too, and by encouraging the creation of more opportunities for people to do so. I hope that, as a result, the Order and Movement will grow more spiritually vigorous than ever. We will give our best efforts to make sure that they do.

Accepting the Headship of the Order in the spirit of accepting ordination

We in the College of Public Preceptors have accepted from Bhante the responsibility of the Headship of the Order. I have tried to outline at least some of the things that we understand that responsibility to mean.

Now, as you can imagine, accepting this responsibility is deeply significant to each of us personally. It is a very weighty spiritual act, in a sense analogous to ordination. For me, certainly, it is essentially the same act on a new level. When I was striving for a way to express this dimension of this moment, the word acceptance triggered in my mind memory of some words in the ordination ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, after the kesa has been bestowed, new Order members speak some verses of acceptance, expressive of the spirit of the ordination. They say:

With loyalty to my teachers, I accept this ordination.
In harmony with friends and brethren, I accept this ordination.
For the sake of Enlightenment, I accept this ordination.
For the benefit of all beings, I accept this ordination.

It is in this same spirit that we accept this responsibility.

With loyalty to our teacher, we accept this responsibility. We accept it in gratitude to you, Bhante, for all you have done for us individually, as well as for so many others. We accept it, determined to stay faithful to you and to all you have taught us. We accept it with reverence and love for you as our friend.

In harmony with friends and brethren, we accept this responsibility. We accept it, knowing that we share a deep spiritual commitment with all our brothers and sisters in the Order. We accept it with awareness that the harmony and unity of the Order are fundamental to our task. We accept it, wishing to work in close co-operation with all Order members to achieve our common goals. We accept it, understanding that we can only be effective if we have the confidence of the Order as a whole.

For the sake of Enlightenment, we accept this responsibility. We accept it, conscious of what it really means. We know that this responsibility has no other purpose than the realisation of ultimate Truth. We accept it, knowing that, in order to carry it out fully, we ourselves must constantly strive in the direction of Enlightenment. We accept it as an intensification of our own personal spiritual practice.

For the benefit of all beings, we accept this responsibility. We accept it with the aspiration that our exercise of this responsibility will be a real contribution to the happiness of others. We accept this responsibility, conscious that we are but tiny aspects of a vast cosmic process, hands of Avalokitesvara, and that only through the inspiration of that Bodhisattva spirit can we carry it out.

Bhante, may you never be disappointed in us. May you live for many years to come, and continue to give us your blessings.

Originally published in Madhyamavani: Issue 4 Spring 2001 (Birmingham: Madhyamaloka, 2001).