SAFEGUARDING THE ORDER IN INDIA A MESSAGE TO THE ORDER IN INDIA FROM THE INDIAN PUBLIC PRECEPTORS’
KULA: Amoghasiddhi, Amritdip, Chandrasil, Jnanasuri, Karunamaya, Subhuti, and Yashosagar. August 2012
The Triratna Bauddha Sangha is, as we all know well, a spiritual community of men and women who Go for Refuge to the Three Jewels. We look to the Buddha Shakyamuni as our guide and inspiration and it is his teachings that we practise and try to spread to others. In India, most of us have come to the Sangha through the inspiration of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and our Sangha is devoted to carrying out his great vision of bringing Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity to India and the world by means of the Dhamma.
The Buddha’s teaching is vast and timeless. Our own founder and teacher is Urgyen Sangharakshita and it is his particular presentation of the Buddha’s Dhamma that we follow. The Order is made up of his disciples and the disciples of his disciples. All Order members have been recognised as Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels effectively at the time of ordination, which means that they should be trying actively to let go of selfish clinging so that the Bodhicitta can be their guiding inspiration. When they join the Order, Order members leave behind the power mode and agree to live in harmony with each other on the basis of the love mode. As a way of ensuring this, they undertake to practise the ten precepts, which define what it is to live by the love mode.
Order members are not, however, Stream Entrants necessarily. In most cases, their Going for Refuge is effective, not yet real. From time to time, we fall back in our efforts and cease to Go for Refuge effectively. If too many of us fail in this way too much of the time, the Order will cease to be a genuine spiritual community and will be just another group. There need to be ways of safeguarding the integrity of the Order, especially by guarding entry to and exit from it.
This responsibility was originally carried by Bhante, who ordained all Order members for nearly twenty years and himself suspended and expelled a number of people. In August 2000 he handed on this responsibility fully to the College of Public Preceptors. Bhante gave to this international body authority for deciding who enters the Order and who is no longer a member. The College as a whole is made up of a number of kulas, consisting of at least five Public Preceptors – usually on a singlesex basis, although this is not yet possible in India. Each kula usually, although not necessarily, has responsibility within a particular region. Thus the Indian kula is at present responsible for ordinations of men and women in India.
With the appointment of Amritdip and Yashosagar, there are now seven Public Preceptors active in India: Amoghasiddhi, Amritdip, Chandrasil, Jnanasuri,
Karunamaya, Subhuti, and Yashosagar. Five of these are of Indian origin and this marks a very significant step forward for the Order and movement here. We are now able to tackle many long standing issues that have affected the integrity of the Order and movement for many years. We already made clear our strategy for renewing the Order in India in the paper of that name written by Subhuti on behalf of us all at the beginning of this year. We now intend to apply that strategy more vigorously and we want here to explain what more we will be doing and the basis on which we will be doing it.
Under the working arrangements of the College, each separate kula is responsible for making final decisions about who joins the Order in their region and about who becomes a Private Preceptor. Although the Public Preceptors consult other Order members, they make the final decision as to whether or not someone is ordained. This gives them a duty to see that the training of mitras for ordination is adequate and for this they have formed Ordination Process teams of Private Preceptors and other senior Order members to help them.
One of our great concerns in India is that, when mitras are ordained, they should go to situations where they will get a good experience of the Order. Otherwise new Order members will quickly lose their inspiration and their training will be undermined and even lost, as happens all too often at present. We are now looking closely at all Triratna situations in India and there are quite a number of them that we do not consider to be ready to receive new Order members. In the next year or so, we will be letting the Order members from those situations know what we expect them to do to create a proper setting for new Order members. Until they have brought that about and maintained it for some time, there will be no ordinations of mitras from those situations.
The Public Preceptors’ College is not only responsible for introducing mitras into the Order, it is also responsible for ensuring that no one remains in the Order who is not acting in accordance with the ideals and precepts of the Order. From time to time the Public Preceptors will find it necessary to put various Order members on probation, suspend them, or even decide that they have effectively left the Order by their own actions. This responsibility is carried by each College kula, although the College’s working arrangements lay down that kulas must check with the Chairman of the College (at present Dhammachari Dhammarati) and the two Deputy-Chairs (at present Dhammacharini Padmasuri and Dhammachari Saddhaloka) before their decisions on these matters become final.
Order members will be put on probation (given a warning with a trial period) when the Public Preceptors conclude that, though they have not broken any precept in a gross way, they are not engaging in their own spiritual lives at all effectively, are not participating much in the life of the Order, and/or are not making much effort to help spread the Dhamma. In other words, they are not Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels at all effectively. We will be making clear what we understand the duties and
responsibilities of an Order member to be in the Indian context and we will then be letting various Order members know that we do not consider them to be fulfilling those duties and responsibilities sufficiently to remain in the Order. They will then be on probation and will need to demonstrate to us over a certain period of time that they are active and effective members of the Order, otherwise we may declare that they are no longer in the Order.
We will also be suspending some Order members who commit gross acts of unskilfulness, bring the Order into discredit, or engage in other activities incompatible with membership of the Order. When an Order member is suspended, he or she will not be able to wear their kesa, attend Order events, including their chapter, or attend Triratna Dhamma Centres or teach. Suspension is not a punishment however. It creates a space within which the suspended person is encouraged to face up fully to what they have done and put it right, so that they can get themselves back into the Order. When someone is suspended, the Public Preceptors will try to form a clear plan with them, based on kalyana mitrata, that will help the person to resolve the issues that have led to their suspension. That suspension will be lifted once the Public Preceptors are convinced that they have sincerely repented their actions, confessed it to their preceptors and kalyana mitras, genuinely apologised to all who have been affected, and put right whatever they possibly can. They will then be reaccepted as Order members in good standing. In a few very serious cases, we will be declaring that someone is no longer an Order member because their actions have excluded them from the Order.
As we have already made clear, Bhante has given the Public Preceptors responsibility for guarding the gates of the Order, both as to who comes in and who leaves. Their decision is therefore final as regards ordination, probation, suspension, and expulsion. Of course, they need to consult other Order members and take seriously any advice they are given. However, any Order member who publicly refuses to accept such decisions made by the kula thereby automatically is themselves excluded from the Order.
Over the next year or so, the Indian Public Preceptors’ kula will gradually be addressing a number of cases of what we believe is serious misconduct of various kinds or serious lack of effectiveness as an Order member and this may mean that a number of people will be put on probation, suspended, or excluded from the Order. We want to make it clear, once more, that we are doing this not in order to punish people – that has nothing to do with a spiritual community. We do it out of our concern for the integrity of the Order and indeed for the spiritual well-being of the people concerned. We ask all other Order members to approach these matters in a spirit of maitri. Bhante made it clear in a recent conversation that anyone who is suspended, for instance, needs more kalyana mitrata than ever and should not be cut off from communication. That itself would be an act of violence that breaks the spirit of the Order.
When we discussed our strategy with Bhante earlier this year, he stressed once more that he wanted all Order members to look very closely at their own conduct and to make sure that they are acting fully in accordance with the Ten Precepts and in the spirit of the Order. This is what we will ourselves be trying to do and we urge all our brothers and sisters to do likewise.
ETHICAL ISSUES WE WILL BE LOOKING AT
The boundaries of the Order are defined by the Buddha’s teaching as presented by our teacher – or more fundamentally by the Three Refuges and the Ten Precepts. In a sense that is enough, and it should always be the ultimate basis on which the Public Preceptors make their decisions about who enters the Order and who should be recognised as having left it. Nonetheless, it is not always clear, in certain cases, how the Refuges and Precepts are to be applied in various situations. This is especially the case insofar as the Order functions in a number of different cultures, each with its own particular conditions.
The Indian kula of the Public Preceptors’ College, with the help of the Private Preceptors, Chapter Convenors, Chairmen, and Mitra Convenors during the recent ‘Three Strands’ retreat at Bor Dharan, has begun looking at a number of ethical issues that have arisen in the Order in India. In what follows, we have set out, on the basis of our discussions with other senior Order members, the principles as we understand them to apply in India, which may be different from how they might work in other cultures – even though the basic principles are exactly the same. We also describe the actions that we will be taking, with the help of other Order members, to apply these principles to our Order now.
Whilst we will be acting on this basis, we welcome discussion, advice, and suggestions from other Order members and will modify this document accordingly. We will also be adding to it as new issues require clarification. It will thus form a kind of Vinaya or code of conduct for the Order in India that the Public Preceptors will modify from time to time in accordance with changing circumstances. Naturally, it should not be understood in legal terms and it is the spirit, not the letter, that we will be trying to apply. We ask all Order members to read it in that light by referring back to the Three Refuges and the Ten Precepts.
VIOLENCE AND HARSH SPEECH IN THE SANGHA Breaches of the first, fifth, and sixth precepts
The Public Preceptors are aware that there a number of Order members who in the recent past have used violence against another Order member, whether by way of a physical attack, threats, legal action, or harsh and slanderous speech. This sort of behaviour is completely against the spirit of the Order and we are determined to deal with it as quickly as possible.
As long ago as November 1987, Bhante himself wrote to Order members about this:
I have made it clear on several occasions that entry into the Order means that ‘we go from being governed by the power principle to being governed by the principle of the Bodhicitta’ – and by power I mean ‘the capacity to exert force,
capacity to coerce, whether directly or indirectly, whether physically or psychologically’. I have also made it clear that the use of power within the Order is the negation of the Order.:
Within the Spiritual Community it is impossible to act in accordance with the power mode, for by its very nature as a voluntary association of free individuals sharing certain common goals the Spiritual Community is based on the love mode. This means that should an Order member so far forget himself as to relate to another Order member in terms of force or violence he to that extent places himself outside the Spiritual Community and ceases, in fact, to be an Order member. Acts of violence between Order members are, therefore, the most serious breaches of the unity and solidarity of the Order that can possibly be imagined, even as the best conceivable means of strengthening that unity and solidarity are thoughts, words, and deeds of love. The Ten Pillars of Buddhism, Windhorse.
Bhante went on to say, ‘Whilst no-one can be expected to move from the power-mode to the love-mode all at once, nonetheless overt violence within the Order is totally unacceptable.’ He said that ‘Any Order member who commits an overt act of violence, whether by physical attack, by threats, or by such means as legal action, against another Order member, regardless of the provocation or the rights and wrongs of the case, thereby puts in question his or her membership of the Order’. He later declared that any Order member who acted in that way thereby automatically suspended themselves from the Order. If they did not put the matter right very quickly they would be excluded from the Order. The Public Preceptors will be acting in accordance with Bhante’s words.
We have also been concerned at the tendency for some Order members to circulate letters to Order members and others making serious allegations against another Order member. This is especially serious when the allegations have little or no foundation. This kind of slanderous speech will be treated by the Public Preceptors as an act of violence and we will immediately suspend that person from the Order.
There have also been a number of cases of the very serious verbal use of harsh speech and the spreading of false allegations about other Order members by word of mouth. These too merit suspension from the Order.
The Public Preceptors will gradually be meeting up with everyone we believe has been involved in such acts of violence to discover the full facts. If violence has indeed taken place then we will not the matter go until we are sure that the perpetrator feels genuine regret for what they have done, has confessed it fully to their preceptors and Kalyana mitras, has apologised to all who have been directly affected, and put right whatever damage has been done, as far as is possible. In the most serious cases we may find it necessary to suspend or even exclude that person from the Order.
In future, such acts of violence will merit immediate suspension.
Whilst what we have set out here concerns violence within the Order, obviously we are also very concerned about violence that Order members may commit towards others. Of especial concern is domestic violence committed by Order members, usually, although not always, by men against their wives or children. We want it to be clear that such behaviour is completely unacceptable and any Order member guilty of it will be immediately suspended from the Order and may be excluded if they do not fully repent and take steps to make sure it is not repeated.
Order members should not generally use legal means to coerce other Order members against their will. Any Order member taking legal action against another, without the explicit agreement of the Order Convenor or Preceptors’ College Kula, will be deemed to have committed an act of violence. It should be noted that where Order members decide to go to court by mutual agreement, for instance to file for divorce, no violence has taken place.
However, when Order members work for an organisation whose Trustees are Order members a different case arises. The Trustees have a duty at law to make sure that the Trust fulfils its aims and objects and, if it is dependent on money received from donors, that the resources of the Trust are used for the purpose intended. Any Order member who is employed by the Trust must then be subject to the disciplinary procedures of the organisation and may be disciplined or their employment terminated if they fail to fulfil the duties assigned to them properly or act improperly in other ways. So long as action is taken in accordance with the law, with the constitution of the Trust, with the disciplinary code of the organisation, as well as with the principles of natural justice, the Trustees and management will not be held to have acted violently and thereby to have breached the principles of the Order.
If an Order member considers that a movement Trust has acted unjustly against him or her or denied them their legal rights, they may seek redress by taking the matter to the courts. However, they should only do so after all other avenues have been exhausted and after consultation with their Kalyana Mitras, preceptors or the Order Convenor.
Of course, if Order members do discipline others or do take movement Trusts to court, this will inevitably affect the harmony and integrity of the Order. Every effort should be made by all concerned to avoid such actions.
SERIOUS FINANCIAL MISCONDUCT BY ORDER MEMBERS Breaches of the second precept
There have recently been a number of cases of serious financial misconduct by Order
members. This of course is in direct breach of the second precept and puts in question membership of the Order. We will be approaching all Order members we believe to have been involved in such activity to find out the full facts. Where it does emerge that there has been misconduct, we will give the person involved a chance to pay the sum back in full, with appropriate interest, and, so long as they genuinely recognise what they have done, feel remorse for it, confess it in full to their preceptors and kalyana mitras, apologise to all they have harmed, and put right whatever can be, they will be able to continue as Order members. If they do not, then we will suspend them and, if they do not quickly confess etc., we will declare that they are no longer members of the Order.
In future, any acts of serious financial misconduct will merit automatic suspension from the Order and will lead to exclusion from the Order if they do not pay back whatever has been misappropriated, confess etc.
We are especially concerned about four areas in which misconduct has occurred:
- Stealing from movement trusts etc.;
- Taking or giving bribes in any context. However, this is especially serious when it happens in connection with the movement’s work;
- Engaging in personal business activities at the centre or doing pyramid sales, land dealing, etc. among mitras and sahayaks. We should generally avoid doing business through our contacts at the centre and within the movement, because of the strong potential this has had to destroy people’s confidence in the Order when they are disappointed with what they have been sold;
- Failing to repay loans, taken from the movement’s organisations or from other Sangha members, whether Order members or others.
Anyone engaging in these kinds of activities may incur suspension from the Order.
SERIOUS SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IN THE ORDER Breaches of the third precept
Over the past few years, there have been a number of cases of adultery within the Order in India, sometimes prolonged over several years. Anyone in the Indian context who has sexual relations with someone other than their own husband or wife or who has sexual relations with someone who is married to someone else breaks the third precept and usually brings great pain and hardship to their own family and/or someone else’s. In doing this they destroy the commitment to the Three Jewels that they made at ordination and the Ten Precepts that represent the application of that commitment. In addition they severely undermine the integrity of the Order and give a very bad example to mitras and others.
Although public preceptors and others have tried to deal with several of these cases through friendship and kalyana mitrata, adultery by Order members still continues to occur, so we feel we must make it quite clear that we cannot regard anyone involved in adultery as an Order member in good standing. Anyone who commits adultery in future should realise that they are thereby automatically suspended from the Order. They will not be eligible to wear their kesa, attend any Order gatherings, including their chapter, or go to a centre, far less to teach the Dhamma. They will only be reaccepted into the Order when they confess their fault fully to their preceptors and kalyana mitras and apologise to those they have wronged in both families. The public preceptors will only re-accept them as Order members when they are quite confident that this has been done.
In a number of cases, an Order member has been involved in sexual relations with the husband or wife of another Order member or of a mitra. If another Order member’s husband or wife is involved there is effectively an act of violence against a fellow Order member and that must be taken even more seriously and may well lead to exclusion from the Order. Similarly if a mitra or the husband or wife of a mitra is involved then there is a serious breach of the trust that mitras should be able to have in the Order and this too may well lead to exclusion from the Order.
We are aware of a number of cases of adultery within the Order over the last few years, some of them, we believe, still continuing. The Preceptors will be approaching all we have reason to believe are engaged in adultery or to have been so engaged since ordination to discover what the position is now and to help bring about a resolution. We should point out that concealment and lying will only add to the offence. We will be concerned to make sure that they have fully stopped, confessed to their Preceptors and kalyana mitras, and have apologised for and cleared up whatever they have done as much as is possible. If this has not happened or does not happen immediately, then that Order member will be suspended until it is and may face exclusion from the Order if no active effort is made to resolve the matter as soon as possible.
We are aware that if such cases become widely known about, great shame and humiliation is brought to quite innocent people, such as the husband or wife and other family members of the adulterer. We will therefore not be making these cases public, even within the Order, and will work to resolve matters as discretely as we can. However, we will not in any way excuse those who have acted unskilfully.
Our purpose in these cases left over from the past is to help anyone in this position to get back onto the path of skilful action and to restore the harmony of their families. However, we want to make it clear that in future we will be acting much more rigorously and promptly and anyone committing adultery will automatically be suspended.
ACTIVE PARTICIPATION IN CEREMONIES AND OTHER ACTIVITIES THAT ABANDON REFUGE IN THE THREE JEWELS
In two recent cases, Dhammacharis got married according to Hindu rites. In one case, the Dhammachari has been suspended, as has his mother, and in the other the matter is being investigated more closely, it being more complex to come to a conclusion what to do since he lives in the UK.
In Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels, we abandon all other refuges: N’atthi me saranam annam, Buddho/Dhammo/Sangho me saranam varam. If we do affirm another refuge then we cease to Go for Refuge to the Three Jewels and thereby cease to be an Order member.
We are quite sure that in neither of these cases did those concerned intend to commit themselves to a different refuge, but that is what they effectively did. They allowed themselves to participate in a public ceremony in which Hindu rites were used and without a clear Buddhist component. They may not have thought that this was anything more than the price they had to pay to marry the person they had chosen, each of the cases involving marriage to someone from a Hindu family. The point is, however, that a ceremony has a very powerful effect, both on those who actively participate in it and on those who are present or who hear about it later. That is why we each went through an Ordination ceremony, thereby publicly committing ourselves to the Three Jewels.
In India there is, in particular, great danger in Order members submitting to Hindu ceremonies without proper care. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar became a Buddhist to escape the oppressions and superstitions that are completely bound up with the Hindu religion and to bring Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity to India. He initiated a cultural revolution based on the Dhamma, but he was very aware that this revolution could easily be destroyed by a counter-revolution, as happened to Indian Buddhism in the middle-ages. Buddhism is especially vulnerable to Hinduism. That is why Dr Ambedkar gave us the twenty two vows, to protect us from falling back. If we do not adhere very strictly to Buddhist custom, we will again see Buddhism disappear from the land of its birth and the opportunity may never come again to revive it.
One of the worst aspects of these cases is the effect that the ceremonies had on local Buddhists, who were severely disillusioned at seeing Order members acting in this way. Inevitably, some will believe that it is all right for them to engage in Hindu customs and practices, because Order members are doing it.
In these two particular cases, it must be recognised that the circumstances of the marriages were very difficult, insofar as they were to people who were not from Buddhist families: in one case, the marriage was inter-caste, with the parents-in-law being staunch Hindus and opposed to the marriage, and in the other with the Dhammachari’s own parents also being Hindus and from a state where there are not many Buddhists. We certainly do not want to make it difficult for people to marry outside the present Maharashtrian Buddhist community. Indeed, if that does not happen on a much larger scale, ‘Buddhist’ will just become a caste label, as has already begun to happen. There is no doubt that some concession will need to be made to the other party’s religious feelings. However, this should be done in active consultation with Kalyana Mitras and friends in the Order to find a solution to these problems that does not compromise Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels and the effectiveness of the Order in spreading the Dhamma. This did not happen to any great extent in either of these cases. With help, they could almost certainly have found a way of getting married that satisfied the other parties without compromising Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels.
In future, everyone should be clear that active engagement in such ceremonies will automatically lead to suspension and eventually to exclusion from the Order. Anyone who finds themselves in a situation where some concession is needed to accommodate the feelings of people from a different religion, should not act before they have discussed the matter fully with their kalyana mitras and preceptors, who will help them to find the best compromise. Of course, merely being present at an occasion when there is a non-Buddhist ceremony does not of itself breach the refuges.
While on the subject of marriage, it should be clear that it is completely unacceptable for an Order member to receive a dowry at the time of marriage. Dowry is illegal in Indian law and often involves considerable hardship for the family that has to pay it. Of course, since it is illegal, dowry is paid under the guise of a ‘gift’, but this is still morally wrong. Of course, gifts can be given that help the new couple set themselves up, but not what amounts to a payment. It should also be stressed that Order members should not have elaborate and expensive weddings that waste resources, nor should they accept them for their own children. Care should also be taken that all ceremonies and events connected with the marriage of an Order member or Order member’s children are in accordance with Buddhist ethical principles. For instance, alcohol or non-vegetarian food should not be served.
COMPROMISING THE SANGHA BY ENGAGING IN POLITICS
Over the years, a few Order members in India have considered standing for election on various party tickets. All have been discouraged by Kalyana Mitras and Preceptors from doing so. Recently, a new Order member was invited to stand for his local gram panchayat. His preceptors and kalyana mitras advised him strongly against it, as did Bhante when he was approached. Nonetheless, he did stand, although unsuccessfully.
Another issue connected with politics has arisen recently. A poster was put up outside the Mahavihara, wishing everyone well on Buddha Purnima. The poster had the photographs of four Order members, an unconnected man, and a local corporator, who was credited as the sponsor. One of the four Order members quite definitely and knowingly made the arrangements. It further emerged that he had been seen endorsing that politician on public platforms, albeit connected with his micro-credit society – which is a clear political front.
Naturally, we encourage Order members to engage in politics in the sense of using their vote to endorse the candidate of the highest moral standards who is most likely to be effective in bringing about a better society. Order members may also actively campaign to encourage positive change in relation to broad issues, such as to end atrocities or to advocate equal opportunities for women. It may also be necessary to take up particular local issues, for instance, to do with the removal of illegal industrial works or the like.
However, electoral politics in India is usually very corrupt and many active politicians are more or less criminals (it seems that the one who sponsored the poster has since been charged with assault). It is very difficult to get elected, even at gram panchayat level, without bribery, giving out free wine, and making promises that cannot be kept. This is especially the case where political parties are concerned. Even if one is relatively moral oneself, one belongs to a party that is filled with, and often led by, people who are deeply unskilful and unscrupulous. Political parties are usually the epitome of the negative group, manipulating the basest emotions for the sake of power. Very few Order members are likely to have the mindfulness and understanding to remain uncorrupted in these circumstances, even at the lowest level of politics and without a party ticket.
In addition, if several Order members engage in politics, they are likely to come into conflict with each other, insofar as their political interests will diverge. ‘Political’ Order members will then infect the Order itself with their own divisions and campaigning, thus breaking the harmony of the Order.
It will also appear to the general public that the Order and movement are affiliated to a particular party or politician. This is why the putting up of the sponsored poster was so unskilkful: the Mahavihara will naturally now be identified with the sponsor and his activities, which may even have included criminal assault.
Nonetheless, there may be very exceptional circumstances in which an Order member is able to stand for election, especially at local level, without risk of corruption or of creating divisions within the Order or of giving the impression that the Order and Movement have a particular political affiliation. They should only submit themselves for election after consulting widely with local Order members and getting the full agreement of their Preceptors and kalyana mitras, as well as of the National Coordinating Council.
It should then be clear that any Order member who, in future, becomes openly and actively associated with politics in this sense will automatically be suspended from the Order and, if the matter is not satisfactorily cleared up, may eventually be excluded. In general, any Order member who stands for election at any level of government without the full agreement of their Kalyana Mitras and Preceptors and of the National Council will automatically be suspended and, if the matter is not satisfactorily cleared up, will eventually be excluded. We will be approaching those who have previously been so involved and making sure that they have completely stopped their activities, recognised what they have done, and apologised to those who might have been affected. If they do not do this very quickly, they will be suspended from the Order and eventually may be excluded.
Some involvement with politicians is however almost unavoidable, especially in the course of organisational work, whether to do with our Dhamma centres or social work. At times, we need their support in various ways. This is of course a potentially dangerous relationship, leading to all the problems mentioned above. This seems to be partly what happened at the Mahavihara. The politician was approached to put up a pandal and welcome arch at the centre. However, he quite naturally expected something in return – that is politics. It should always be clear to any politician helping us that they can expect nothing back from us, that we are not endorsing them nor are we necessarily going to vote for them, and that we may also accept help from other parties and politicians opposed to them. In general such relationships with politicians should only be handled by very experienced Order members who should make sure that they keep the Chairmen’s meeting and the National Council informed. It is the responsibility of the Chairmen’s meeting and National Council to make sure that the movement remains quite clear in this respect.
COMPROMISING ONE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH ONE’S PRECEPTORS AND TEACHERS AND THE INTEGRITY OF OUR TEACHING AND PRACTICE OF THE DHAMMA
The Order consists of disciples of Urgyen Sangharakshita and disciples of his disciples. We practise and teach the Dhamma in accordance with his particular presentation of the Buddha’s teaching. Any Order member who rejects this understanding of the Order thereby ceases to be an Order member and will be declared to have left the Order.
All our centres teach the same common core of Dhamma and anyone going from one centre to another anywhere else in the world should find the same practices and the same basic teachings being taught. In this way we can successfully follow the path shown by our teacher and remain united through our common understanding and practice.
In what Bhante has taught us there is everything that we need to enter the stream of the Dhamma. As Order members, we should not normally take teachings and practices from outside his presentation or go to other teachers, otherwise we are likely to become confused and to find ourselves with a different perspective from that of our fellow Order members. Any Order member who does so, without proper consultation, thereby effectively leaves the Order and may be suspended.
From time to time it may, however, be useful for a particular Order member to investigate teachings and practices coming from sources not taught by Bhante. In that way we may discover something that can be incorporated into what is taught in the movement because it adds something useful. However, this will require a very clear understanding of the basic principles of Bhante’s presentation of the Dhamma and an ability to think critically about what they are learning from outside the movement. Not everyone is qualified to do this. Order members should not take teachings from other teachers or go on their retreats and courses without the full agreement of their preceptors and kalyana mitras, who will make sure there is a procedure for evaluating and, if appropriate, absorbing what is learned. Anyone who does go without that agreement may be subject to suspension from the Order.
It is very important that people who start to practise the Dhamma through Triratna Bauddha Mahasangha are taught the particular presentation that is the basis of our movement. Other teachers should therefore not be invited to teach at our centres. The Public Preceptors need to be confident that mitras who are approaching ordination are clear about Bhante’s teaching. They will not agree to the ordination of anyone coming from a centre where that is not the case. We hope that the Chairmen’s meeting and National Council will ensure that all centres are allowing only qualified Order members to teach in accordance with our common approach.
We want to be clear, however, that keeping this kind of clarity about what is taught within the movement does not restrict us in another way. It is important that we should be developing positive relations with other Buddhists. We do not want our movement to be cut off from the wider Buddhist world, both in India and elsewhere, since we may need help and support from other Buddhists and should cooperate with them whenever possible to safeguard and spread the Dhamma. Contact with other Buddhists also gives us a chance to communicate to them the very special approach that we have developed, under Bhante’s guidance. Properly qualified Order members should be encouraged to attend Buddhist conferences and to develop friendly contact with other Buddhists of all kinds. Buddhist conferences on various themes have been hosted at Nagaloka and these can be very useful ways of promoting understanding and good contact. However, they should always be under the guidance of skilled leaders, such as Lokamitra, who are able to make sure that our position is quite clear.
At times it may be appropriate to arrange a meeting of Order members to which we invite guest Buddhists to address us about their work, Buddhism in their countries, and the like – partly to educate us and partly to create a connection though which our work can be appreciated. This should always be done under the skilled chairmanship of someone who is able to handle diplomatically any problems that chanced to arise. Both before and after the session with the speaker, there should be time to discuss and to sort out any confusions. At present, probably only Lokamitra and one or two others are in a position to chair such a meeting.
ORDER MEMBERS WHO HAVE CEASED TO GO FOR REFUGE EFFECTIVELY
At the time of their ordination, all Order members were acknowledged by their preceptors to be Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels Effectively. However, effective Going for Refuge is not stream entry and we will fall back from time to time if we do not make a continuous effort to practise the Dhamma. Quite a number of Order members fall back so far and over such a long period that they have in fact ceased to be members of the Order: one could say that they have become ‘Mitras with kesas’.
Until now we have not done anything about this situation, apart from encouraging people to make more effort and to re-engage themselves with the spiritual life and with the Order. However, when there are too many Order members in this position, it begins to undermine the integrity of the Order. Order members who are effectively Going for Refuge themselves begin to be disillusioned and the Order is not able to give the kind of inspiring example that people in the wider society need. This has already started to happen here in India and we, in the Indian Public Preceptors’ Kula, believe that, unless we act soon, it will be more and more difficult for the Sangha to be a genuine spiritual community.
It is our duty to make sure that the Order consists only of those who are going for Refuge to the Three Jewels effectively. That is, of course, primarily not an external matter. Going for Refuge is a complete re-orientation of one’s life so that it is based upon the Three Jewels. It consists in an active and continuing effort to develop skilful karma, let go of self-clinging, and to allow the stream of the Dhamma to carry one onward towards Bodhi. However, Effective Going for Refuge within the context of our Sangha will have general characteristics that can be seen by others. We wish therefore to set out what we believe to be some of the principal external signs of an Order member in good standing who is Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels effectively. We appreciate that this can never be completely definitive, but nonetheless consider that the general outlines of what can be expected are reasonably clear. We will do this under the headings of the four verses of acceptance that we all recited at the end of our Public Ordination ceremony:
For the sake of Enlightenment, we accept this ordination; With loyalty to our teachers, we accept this ordination; In harmony with friends and brethren, we accept this ordination;
For the benefit of all beings, we accept this ordination.
For the sake of Enlightenment, we accept this ordination
An Order member who is Going for Refuge Effectively will be: Living skilfully in accordance with the ten precepts, especially not eating meat, drinking alcohol, smoking or chewing tobacco, or using drugs; Practising Right Livelihood; Accepting full karmic responsibility, confessing faults, apologising, and making amends; Maintaining an effective meditation practice on a daily basis, through which they will be working on the five aspects of Bhante’s system of practice, especially spiritual death and rebirth; Studying the Dhamma for at least two or three hours each week, especially in the light of Bhante’s particular presentation, and reflecting upon it; Attending at least two of the following kinds of retreats of at least one week each every year: on meditation for Order members, led by an experienced Order member; on Dhamma-study for Order members, led by an experienced Order member; solitary, with guidance from an experienced Order member. Practising mindfulness in all aspects, especially of mental habits and patterns, and trying to ‘die and be reborn spiritually’;
With loyalty to our teachers, we accept this ordination; Maintaining the 22 vows given by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Reading or listening to Bhante’s works every week; Practising and teaching in accordance with his presentation of the Dhamma; Not taking teachings from teachers outside the Order, without full discussion and agreement from Preceptors; Maintaining regular contact with kalyana mitras and Preceptors and consulting them on all major decisions in life.
In harmony with friends and brethren, we accept this ordination; Attending festivals, celebrations, and other major events at the centre; Attending chapter meetings every week and engaging effectively with fellow chapter members in discussion and practice of the Dhamma; Regularly confessing faults and helping others to confess theirs; Attending Regional Order weekends and days at least three times a year; Attending all Order conventions in India; Not engaging in quarrels or factions; Working harmoniously with others in the Centre Councils etc.; Supporting, working with, and engaging in all the structures of the Order and movement: Centre chairman, Mitra convenors, chapter convenors, ordination teams, public preceptors, etc.;
Keeping in daily, deep, and effective communication with friends in the Order;
For the benefit of all beings, we accept this ordination. Giving dana for Dhamma work: trying to give 5% of income; Voluntarily helping clean, maintain, and organise the Centre; Supporting Dhamma classes and activities weekly; Learning to teach the Dhamma effectively; Making friends and developing kalyana mitrata with sahayaks and mitras on a daily and weekly basis; Helping mitras to prepare for ordination through deep friendship.
If Order members are doing all this, then they will make good spiritual progress and the Order will be in good shape.
The Public Preceptors have been surveying the whole Order, with the help of the Chapter Convenors, and have found that there are a number of Order members who appear not to be fulfilling these basic duties of an Order member, to a greater or lesser extent. Of course, there are Order members who would like to fulfil all these criteria, but who cannot do so because of illness, old age, long distance from other Order members, etc. Such people will continue to be considered to be Order members in good standing, so long as they have discussed their situations fully with their Preceptors, kalyana mitras, and the Order convenor. Such exceptions apart, there are three main categories to be considered:
- Order members who are so out of contact that no one has seen or heard of them for many years. We will be making their names known to Order members to see whether anyone has any definite information about them. If no one has, then we will simply declare that they have effectively left the Order. If later they try to return, they should be referred to the Order Convenor.
- Order members who are not participating in the Order at all but who are in social contact with other Order members. We will be approaching such people to ask them either to fully engage in the Order or to resign. If they do not, then we may declare them no longer to be Order members.
- Order members who are peripherally engaged in the movement, but have little or no spiritual practice or active involvement in the Order. This is the largest category and contains quite a few familiar faces, even people working in movement trusts. We will be approaching such people, pointing out what we expect of an Order member and how far short they fall, and putting them on probation for six months or a year. If they do begin to function fully and effectively as an Order member, as outlined above, they will be able to continue as an Order member in good standing. If they do not, then we may declare that they are no longer Order members.
We hope all Order members will consider their own lives in the light of these criteria.
Surely every one of us could be fulfilling our duties as an Order member much more effectively. We hope also that Order members in chapters will work with each other very sympathetically to help each and every chapter member to be a fully effective Order member. It is this spirit of kalyana mitrata that in the end is the true life blood of the Order.