Looking to the Further Shore


The gift of the Dhamma surpasses all gifts. The Dhammapada

Something I delight in is telling others about the Dharma. Once in a while I touch upon the calm, deep simplicity of the Buddha’s vision, and manage to share that vision with others: the fact that, as human beings, we are spiritual beings. We are Buddhas in potential.

Today there are approximately six thousand, two hundred million potential Buddhas in the world. Never before has there been such latent scope for Enlightenment: six thousand, two hundred million individuals who, from the Buddhist perspective, hold within them the seeds of wisdom and compassion. We live in the midst of myriad opportunities for the good.

Most of us don’t really appreciate our full potential unless others tell us — and even then it takes time for it to sink in. We don’t do very much to cultivate the seeds of wisdom and compassion unless someone shares with us the vision of what we could be. I for one wouldn’t have done much about being wiser and more loving if I hadn’t had the possibility pointed out to me.

Even so, small manifestations of wisdom and compassion abound in the world, and in fact surround us every day. Though there is a lot of ignorance and hatred, there is a great deal of understanding and love, too. The painful thing is that there could be so much more, if only more people had the opportunity to learn how to develop those qualities.

The communication of the Dharma is a part of life for any Dharmachari or Dharmacharini, as it is for many Mitras and Friends. We quite naturally share with others the vision of human existence offered by Buddhism (as of course do Buddhists of all traditions). We do it through conversations with friends; through giving classes, courses or talks at our Buddhist centres; through our work in Buddhist ‘institutions’; through the written word and the arts; and perhaps most importantly through the way we live.

Some of us take on the practice of communicating the Buddha’s vision very directly and fully through the FWBO. Most of my life as a member of the Western Buddhist Order has involved creating the FWBO in new situations — specifically in Spanish-speaking and, more recently, Portuguese-speaking countries. For many years, I lived in Valencia in Spain, where with others I helped to establish the FWBO. In the last few years I have travelled regularly to Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil to help with FWBO activities in those countries.

I am very happy to be able to do such work. I have confidence in the FWBO — confidence that, in helping to extend the activities of this Movement to other countries, I am effectively communicating the Buddhist vision to others, and offering them a means to live it out. As Buddhists, we who make up the FWBO have the Three Jewels in common with all Buddhists, but our Movement has its own special characteristics. The Order has now built up substantial experience of spiritual practice and the FWBO offers an approach to Buddhism that is valid in most cultures. Broadly speaking, I think that it could be started anywhere in the world (where conditions permit) and be an effective vehicle for the Three Jewels.

Of course, we still have things to learn, and no doubt we always will. As a Buddhist movement, the FWBO needs to become more dynamic and flexible. We all need to go deeper in our own practice and at the same time respond more effectively to the world around us. More specifically, I think we need to learn more about how to create the FWBO in new countries and cultures. Having spent most of my time as an Order member doing just that, I am aware that we could be much better at it than we are. It is true that the FWBO has a presence in many countries, but that presence is extremely small everywhere except in Britain and India. As a member of the Preceptors’ College Council, I am taking a special interest in developing our approach to the extension of the Movement to other countries, and in generating resources for that purpose.

My main purpose in this short article is therefore to invite you to contact me if you are an Order member or Mitra interested in helping establish the FWBO outside the UK and India. I want to build up a network of such people. Your interest may be either specific or general. That is, you might already have a particular country or city in mind (and you might even have contacts there), or you might just want to help out in whatever way you can. In either case, I would like to hear from you. Once I know who is interested, and on what basis, I (and others) will organise events and seminars, as a way of helping you take your interest further.

Going to live abroad is not the only way to help in such work. In the College Council, we have begun (with the help of others with relevant experience) to re-think our whole approach to this subject. At present we are particularly interested in exploring how to give more initiative to local groups abroad — perhaps stimulating their growth by means of regular visits from Order members based in well-developed situations. This might include occasional visits from senior Dharmacharis and Dharmacharinis, probably working closely with other Order members (less senior, but having the necessary abilities) who visit more frequently. The visitors would give the local Mitras or Friends guidance, and allow them some scope for initiative.

Using this kind of approach, Order members may be able to do a lot to develop new Centres abroad, without emigrating and without even having to undergo a major upheaval in their lifestyle or workload. Instead, they could work from a basis of strength and contentment in their own practice, and the supportive context of their own chapters and local mandalas. On that sort of basis, many more of us could help to develop FWBO activities outside the UK, and do it very effectively, too. Of course, it will require us to find resources to support such activities, and to develop new resources, such as translations of study materials.

Many opportunities present themselves for developing the Movement beyond the UK. Sometimes, it is a matter of responding to invitations. The FWBO is increasingly known around the world. Occasionally, people in other countries — people who appreciate our ideas and our way of doing things — contact us in the hope of creating or strengthening links with us. With better organisation and support, we could do much more than at present to respond to such interest. Expanding the FWBO is not about transporting some monolithic institution to other countries; it is about relating to individuals with kalyana mitrata, enabling them to participate in our spiritual community, and helping them create a context for Dharma practice on their home ground.

At the same time, I think that we could also do more to help those individuals who come to the UK seeking ordination and training, with the aim of subsequently taking the Dharma and the FWBO back to their own countries. They have particular needs, and we could develop contexts where those needs are more directly and fully met. This is already happening to some extent at Windhorse Trading.

We also need to provide more support to those Order members and Mitras already living abroad, and to the FWBO activities they have developed. From my own experience I know how difficult it can be. With more support and resources, I am sure that we can make it easier and do it better.

Inevitably, the question of money arises. We are starting a fund to support the development of FWBO activities outside the UK and India. Until now, we have never really had a specially allocated fund for the extension of Dharma activities outside of the UK or India. This fact has probably been a significant obstacle to our expansion. We intend that any money raised will initially be used to support Order members and to develop resources. We invite you to give generously. For details, please see the forms at the end of this article; and please note that, if you are a taxpayer, we can reclaim the tax you have paid on the money you donate. Please give whatever you can, and as often as you can.

The FWBO is just a drop in the ocean of the world — or as Sangharakshita has said, a small wave within a wave. We are just one, relatively small, Buddhist group amongst many other Buddhists who, like us, are trying to share the message of the Buddha. Trying to share the Buddha’s vision with six thousand, two hundred million people is a long job. With a bit of energy and creativity, however, we in the FWBO can hope to share it with at least a few thousand more around the world in the foreseeable future. I hope that you will give to the fund that we have started. And if you are interested in helping in whatever way with this work, or would like to know more, then please do get in touch with me.

Not only does the gift of the Dharma surpass all gifts, but delight in the Dharma surely surpasses all delights.

Originally published in Madhyamavani 6: Spring 2002 (Birmingham: Madhyamaloka, 2002).