Triratna Buddhist Community

“The Essential Sangharakshita” by Urgyen Sangharakshita, edited by Karen Stout

The Essential SangharakshitaBuddhism has always adapted its presentation as it has taken root in new cultures, finding new idioms and new forms that resonate with the host culture.

For the last fifty years, Sangharakshita has been one of the teachers most involved in helping Buddhist to find expression in the west. William Harryman takes a look at Wisdom’s new survey of 50 years of teaching.

Discussing the movement of Buddhism to the West seems to be a hot topic in the Buddhist magazines, blogs, and online communities. There seems to be a lot of concern as to how Buddhism will survive the translation from Eastern culture to Western culture. Many traditional Eastern teachers, especially Theravadin, and even some Tibetan, do not want to see Buddhism adapted in any way for its Western audience. From their perspective, Buddhism has survived just fine for more than 2,500 years.

However, there are many more who believe that in order for Buddhism to take root in the West, it must adapt itself to the Western mind. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was among the first teachers to really embody this perspective. Many Americans and Europeans went to India, Nepal, Japan, and other Buddhist nations during the sixties and seventies and returned as teachers. Lama Surya Das, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg are among the best known teachers in America. (My comments here are generalizations, so interested readers are invited to check out Western Buddhist Teachers by Andrew Rawlinson for a more in-depth look at Buddhist teachers in the West.) Stephen Batchelor (in Buddhism Without Beliefs) has gone so far as to suggest a Buddhism without karma and rebirth, two seemingly “pre-modern” ideas closely associated with Buddhism.

Title: The Essential Sangharakshita: A Half-Century of Writings from the Founder of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order
Author: Urgyen Sangharakshita (Edited by Karen Stout).
Publisher: Wisdom Publications, 2009.
ISBN: 0-86171-585-3
Available from: Wisdom and

Dennis Lingwood went to India (posted there in the British military following WWII) and stayed when his enlistment ended. Having read The Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Wei Lang as a teenager, he realized he was and had always been a Buddhist. Following his discharge from service, he set off with a friend to find a teacher and was eventually ordained in the Theravada tradition, where he was given the name Sangharakshita (“protected by the spiritual community”). Over the following years he continued to seek the dharma from a variety of Buddhist teachers, including Tibetan refugees, among them Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It was one of his other Tibetan teachers, Kachu Rimpoche, who gave Sangharakshita the name “Urgyen,” when Rimpoche was conferring the Padmasambhava initiation. Sangharakshita also read widely in the various Buddhist traditions, seeking an understanding of the universal truths that unite the diverse Buddhist community.

This broad education in Buddhist traditions eventually led Sangharakshita to return to England and found in 1967 the first Western ecumenical Buddhist sangha, The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (Triratna Buddhist Community). Its goal was to make Buddhism accessible to the West in ways compatible with the modern world. In doing so, Sangharakshita references Western philosophy, psychology, and art, in addition to the central Buddhist teachings. Over the years, Sangharakshita has written extensively on Buddhist practices from the perspective of the Triratna Buddhist Community, and those writings are finally collected in The Essential Sangharakshita (Wisdom Publications), edited by Karen Stout (known in the Triratna Buddhist Community community as Vidyadevi).


The book is a substantial 792 pages, including material from 38 of Sangharakshita’s books, his poetry, early writings, sutra commentaries, spoken word, and autobiography. The book is organized into sections that help give some coherence to the massive amount of text (Stout has done an amazing job organizing the material). The five broad sections include The Essentials (introductory Buddhist teachings), Buddhism and the Mind (teachings on Buddhist psychology, death, karma, rebirth and other deeper topics), Art, Beauty, and Myth in the Buddhist Tradition (several great sections combining Western psychology, dream study, art, and myth), Buddhism and the Heart (dealing with emotions, meditation, ritual, gurus, and nature), and Buddhism and the World (Bodhisattvas, compassion, ethics, discipline, right livelihood). Within each main section are several smaller sections containing individual articles, poems, excerpts, and assorted writings.

Creating this collection was no small task. Sangharakshita still has more than fifty books in print, so making the selections and organizing them needed an approach that could serve to structure the book. In Stout’s own words:

All my attempts to organize them seemed just to shift the heap into another heap; and the words, taken from their contexts, kept losing their luster. I decided to try organizing the collection according to a symbolic pattern to which Sangharakshita has returned many times in the course of his teaching: the mandala of the five Buddhas, from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. (Editor’s Preface)

The center Buddha is Vairocana, also known as the Illuminator (The Essentials). To the east is Aksobhya, the Imperturbable (Buddhism and the Mind). To the south, is the realm of Ratnasambhava, the golden Buddha of beauty (Art, Beauty, and Myth in the Buddhist Tradition). In the west, Amitabha is the Buddha of infinite light (Buddhism and the Heart). And in the north, is Amoghasiddhi, whose name means “unobstructed success” (Buddhism and the World). The use of this symbolic structure is quite useful to the reader and adds layers of meaning to the readings.

The Writings

One thing to note at the outset of this section is that those looking to this book for information about the Western Buddhist Order (WBO) or Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (Triratna Buddhist Community) will be disappointed. There is not a single reference (that I noticed) by Sangharakshita to his worldly projects within the text, and only the briefest of mentions in the introduction and in an end matter blurb. As a Buddhist who is not familiar with the Triratna Buddhist Community, I would have liked a chapter or so of explanation about the sangha, especially considering some of the information about controversies (true or otherwise) available on the web. But I can also see not including anything about the Order in order to focus on the material itself.

One thing that, for this reader, highly recommends this text is Sangharakshita’s reliance on the Pali texts when he refers to the Sutras. He is not advocating a purely Theravadin approach either, so the ecumenical nature of the writings with a reliance on the oldest available texts makes a great deal of sense. I also appreciated that he emphasizes mindfulness of breathing and work with developing loving-kindness as the two recommended forms of meditation. This may seem “old school” to some Buddhists, but the reliance on these simple practices for Westerners makes a great deal of sense.

Further, as a Westerner who has sampled from many different traditions, I also appreciate Sangharakshita’s acknowledgment of the Path of Irregular Steps:

We are in the transcendental sweet shop of Buddhism, with all these spiritual goodies around us, and so we grab this and that: Zen, Tantra, Theravada, ethics, meditation of one sort or another. But nonetheless, we do make some progress. The Path of Irregular Steps is a path, and it does give us some experience of Buddhism. (p. 169)

But this only works as a path for a short time. Sooner or later our practice will stagnate or stop altogether. So while he acknowledges that many of us, especially in the West, will attempt this buffet style of Buddhism (a little of this, a little of that), he also knows that a consistent approach is needed, the Path of Regular Steps:

This is the basic principle. If we want to experience the higher stage, or higher level, with any intensity of any permanence, we must first perfect the lower stage, on the basis of which, alone, the higher stage is to be established. This is why, sooner or later, we have to make the transition from the Path of Irregular Steps to the Path of Regular Steps. (p. 174)

Sometimes, in order to make this transition, we need to go backwards–back to the basics we may have skipped over in order to try the more exciting or esoteric practices. Point taken.

This book may be a great introduction to a distinctly Western Buddhist practice for some people, and for others already familiar with Sangharakshita’s work or already a part of the Triratna Buddhist Community, the book is a nice collection of the primary teachings. With a book of this size, there is way more content that a brief review can cover, so pick up a copy and spend a few hours with this uniquely Western approach to Buddhist practice.

William HarrymanWilliam Harryman is a freelance writer, a personal trainer, nutritional coach, and integral life coach living in Tucson, Arizona. He has been a practicing Buddhist since 1998, at first sampling among many traditions before settling into the Shambhala tradition of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

William blogs at Integral Options Café, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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Buddhism for kids – interactively

Interactive Buddhism for kidsWhat would the Buddha have said if he’d known schools would be studying his life 2,500 years later – using online interactive media?

The “Life of the Buddha Interactive” is a new interactive learning resource for 8-12 year-olds in Religious Education, or RE.

Clear Vision, the Triratna Buddhist Community‘s educational charity based in Manchester UK, has a reputation for lively, informative, video-based materials for Buddhism in RE, which is a compulsory part of the curriculum in British schools. With their first interactive resource, they’ve become possibly the UK’s first faith group to embrace the new opportunities offered by online learning in RE.

The Life of the Buddha Interactive features 7 video clips with questions, activities, extra information, teacher’s notes and a friendly help-lion called Bodhi. In this publicly-available demo you can hear Bodhi, who has a delightful UK-midlands accent, introduce the early life of the Buddha. Later in the year a home-use version will be available.

Munisha, education officer at Clear Vision, said, “It’s very exciting finding new ways of stimulating young people to examine their experience in the light of the Buddha’s teaching. These new materials are really distinctive: we believe that new kinds of activities, involving carefully guided use of the internet, can offer schools unprecedented access to the contemporary Buddhist world.”

The move from DVD to interactive online materials has been made possible through the generosity of a Manchester Buddhist who specializes in Flash software.

All product details may be found at Clear Vision’s site. Clear Vision can also be contacted by mail at: Clear Vision Trust, 16-20 Turner Street, Manchester M4 1DZ, UK, or by telephone at +44 161 839 9579.

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“Hello At Last, Embracing the Koan of Friendship and Meditation,” by Sara Jenkins

Hello at Last Sara Jenkins was handed a dilemma in the form of two seemingly contradictory teachings: while on retreat, maintain silence and abstain from communication, and at the same time deepen your connections with others. Samayadevi reviews the book in which Jenkins explores the creative tension between those teachings and the vision of friendship that it gave birth to.

Sara Jenkins is a woman one would want to know, to have as a friend. In this little tome, Hello At Last, Embracing the Koan of Friendship and Meditation, she shares with us her experiences with the profound and perhaps surprising practice of spiritual friendship. We seem to grasp the importance of the Buddha and the Dharma in the Three Jewels (or three Refuges) in Buddhism, but it is the jewel of the Sangha that often gets short shrift.

Sara has studied with the Zen teacher Cheri Huber for over twenty years, and Cheri is quite clear about maintaining silence and not socializing with others on retreat. On the other hand, her injunction is to “Deepen your relationships.” It is this conundrum, this koan, that Sara tackles. How is it possible to deepen relationships in silence?

We are not often who we think we are, or who we think we should be

It was in Dapodi, India, that Sara came into contact with the Triratna Buddhist Order, and got her first glimpse of how friendship can be actively engaged as a practice. Her immediate response was to question what communication had to do with Buddhism. Until then the practice had been so much about meditation and working with a teacher that is came as a surprise that relationships might be a context of practice as well. In the sutta in which Ananda, the Buddha’s companion and cousin, says to the Buddha that he thinks spiritual friendship is half of the spiritual life, the Buddha’s response is: “Say not so, Ananda, say not so. Spiritual friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.”

In the Western Buddhist Order, Sara discovered that those who have asked for ordination often choose two members of the community as spiritual friends (kalyana mitras), friends who share the same ideals and support one another along the path. It is not a relationship based on a common background or temperament or life style, but solely on this shared ideal of transformation. Friendship becomes a fundamental aspect of the spiritual life.

See also:

And so Sara, an editor by profession and a wholehearted practitioner of Buddhism, delves into the question of how it is possible to practice this spiritual friendship. She shares with us the specific practices of reflective listening, insight dialog, meditative communication and intentional retreats at home with a friend. “There is no need to wait for somebody else to impose structure and silence.” She shares her own experiences with these practices in the personal anecdotes interspersed throughout, and she does not clean things up for us. She reveals her own struggles and learnings. She shows us what a spiritual friendship would look like, as well as the effort it takes and the courage.

Hello At Last is a little gem of a book. It reads easily, and still conveys a profound practice.

It is refreshing to sit with Sara as she unfolds this deep practice for us. The fact is that “communication is at the heart of friendship, and the foundation is inner stillness.” Reflective listening is about “offering ourselves as mirrors for each other… (it) becomes a breathtaking act of love.”

As with so many of the practices in Buddhism, the place to begin is with oneself. It is easy to fall into patterns of social interaction that are a bit mindless and pro forma without ever acknowledging what is going on inside. The practice of insight dialogue begins with abandoning all those social conventions, and speaking from the inside, from an awareness of the feelings one carries around, the “background thoughts” we often cover up with pleasantries. “We are not often who we think we are, or who we think we should be.”

Yet the necessary core of self-knowledge is self-acceptance, a kindness towards ourselves that is not common in our American culture. The Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa have both spoken of the harsh self-judgments they found in America. Thich Nhat Hanh often writes about the need to leave aside critical self-judgments and actually learn to befriend ourselves. Sara’s exercises are “elegantly simple and still profound.” They begin in silence and solitude, to know the within so we can recognize our commonality with all beings. We will never be secure in our friendships and our sense of interconnectedness without knowing who we really are and seeing that in others as well.

Compassion is not pity, and empathy is impossible without self-awareness. Although we might sense that our feelings, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, are unique, it is through reflective listening and insight dialogue that we discover that is an illusion. Sara show us how to pause to see those feelings in ourselves so we can recognize them in others and know the confidence that we are really not other from one another.

…you will do for the love of others what you will not do for yourself.

Hello At Last is a little gem of a book. It reads easily, and still conveys a profound practice. It is difficult not to like this woman who grapples with the koan her teacher gave her.

“Here is the resolution of the koan I had been carrying around, the puzzle of how to deepen relationships while maintaining silence: communication is reined in from the claims of past and future, from the habit of reactivity, to the stillness of each moment, in which the right words will naturally arise.”

It is easy to trust her process, her practices, as she has shared it with us. She ends with a quote from a text by Allan Gurganus, an orientation address to those souls recently arrived in heaven. It ends with these words:

The Celestial offers you perfect, funny
Erotic company, eternally.
This is Paradise.
This, my dears, is all God has ever promised us:


We need not wait for Heaven. Here, now, many of us are just beginning to know ourselves, ourselves in others, others in us.

May we be clear mirrors for each other, for seeing who we are, and who we are not. In our practice of being present to one another, may we find inspiration in the words “because you’re mine.” Not that we’re in charge of anyone but ourselves, or that we can change things for anyone else. But because, as my teacher likes to say, you will do for the love of others what you will not do for yourself. Until you realize that “they” and “you” are one.

SamayadeviSamayadevi is a 66-year-old mother of six, step-mother of four, step-grandmother of eight, and grandmother-to-be. She discovered meditation when she was thirteen and has been practicing (erratically) ever since. Her spiritual path has led her through Catholicism to the Episcopal church and finally into Buddhism. She was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in the summer of 2007 on a three month retreat in Spain.

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The Larkhall attic Margaret turned into a Buddhist shrine (Evening Times, Glasgow, Scotland)

Maureen Ellis, Evening Times, Glasgow: His Holiness the Dalai Lama comes to the SECC in Glasgow on Saturday for the first of four days of teachings on Buddhism.

An expected 10,000 people will attend his public talk, while the Solus Festival at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre in Sauchiehall Street, will hold talks, workshops, meditation and fringe events.

Ahead of Glasgow’s first Buddhist festival, MAUREEN ELLIS talks to three local people who have put their faith in the religion.

Margaret Fergusson’s quiet Larkhall bungalow would be like any other in her street. . . if it wasn’t for the huge buddha that sits outside her home.

Inside, her loft has been converted into a makeshift shrine, which Margaret affectionately calls her rabbit hutch.

The reason for the outsize Buddha and the indoor shrine is that Margaret is a Buddhist – a religion she took up 10 years ago to cope with the daily stresses of her job as a chemist in the Blood Transfusion Service.

“Somebody who didn’t know me recently described me as being quite laid-back,” she says. “I can tell you I wasn’t laid back before.

“I’ve learned to hang loose with things in life – the nice things will happen and the nasty things will happen, and that’s how things are.”

Margaret’s background set her up perfectly for an exploratory life.

Born in wartime Glasgow, yet raised throughout the Hebridean Islands, her family were staunch agnostics who would listen to any idea, provided it could be backed up.

“It was an incredibly argumentative house,” she recalls, “but it was incredibly free – no idea was considered too shocking to broach at the dinner table.”

As a youth, Margaret read Buddhist books brought back from India by her father, who had been involved in war service there.

Later she became involved with humanism and Scottish national politics, but when she enrolled in a class at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre she quickly became hooked.

“When I got there I just felt at home. I was sitting on my first night in my first meditation class, planning how I could extend my stay beyond the eight weeks that I’d signed up for.”

Margaret’s plan succeeded. Today, having retired from her daily job, she not only attends regular classes at the centre but also works as a receptionist on a voluntary basis one day per week.

Describing herself as a visual person, Margaret identifies most with the Tibetan Wheel of Life, an illustration of the essence of Buddhist teachings that provides a ready reckoner of her spiritual status.

She’s currently a Mitra (friend) of the Western Buddhist Order – the interim stage between stating a committed interest in Buddhism and becoming ordained.

As she did in her agnostic family household, Margaret endures light-hearted banter with her husband Iain and two sons, Euan aged 24 and Alan, 22.

Nevertheless, the Buddhist philosophies, while far from being evangelical, must be rubbing off on them – for the whole family will attend the Dalai Lama’s public talk at the SECC.

“None of them are seriously interested in Buddhism, but they’re quite happy to get involved. I think they see me as a bit calmer and more able to withstand the slings and arrows,” says Margaret.

Article no longer available.

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A religion for everyone? (The Scotsman, Edinburgh, Scotland)

Stephen McGinty, The Scotsman: The robes are mustard and plum. The glasses are thick as jam-jar bottoms. The head is shaven to a dark, prickly fuzz. The smile can only be described as beatific.

When the Dalai Lama steps out on to the stage of the SECC in Glasgow on Saturday afternoon, the applause generated from 10,000 admirers will match that for U2, Britney Spears or any other previous occupant of the concert hall. Packed in the audience beside the scarlet robed monks of the Tibetan monastery in Eskdalemuir will be plumbers and teachers, office managers and doctors, the young and the old. All believe the path to serenity and happiness lies in the 2,500-year-old teachings of the Buddha, the jolly fat chap with the rotund belly whose effigies in clay or brass are cropping up with increasing regularity in homes across Scotland.

The Dalai Lama, in his first visit to Scotland in more than a decade, will give a lecture entitled Inner Peace, Outer Harmony, advocating the practice of meditation as a means to achieve contentment. Unlike other spiritual beliefs, Buddhists have science on their side, with recent medical research revealing that practitioners of meditation lower their stress levels, heal faster and are freer from anxiety and depression.

So why in this secular age is a spiritual movement that seeks to eradicate the “self” gaining ground? In a time when avarice and greed is epidemic, why is a belief system that targets desire and possessions as the cause of unhappiness drawing hundreds of new followers each year? And, more curiously, how did the Scotland of the Kirk become an international centre for the Karma?

Today, according to the General Register Office for Scotland, there are 6,580 Buddhists in Scotland, a figure that puts the faith on a par with Judaism and Sikhism and ahead of Hinduism, the root from which it first sprang. As Christianity sub-divides into denominations such as Catholic, Baptist and Protestant, so Buddhism in Scotland is divided into Zen, Sri Lankan, Western and the Tibetan practices of the country’s oldest institute, the Samye Ling monastery nestled among the lowlands of the Borders near Eskdalemuir.

According to Professor Perry Schmidt-Leukel, of the department of theology and religious studies at Glasgow University, the popularity of Buddhism in Britain is down, on one level, to its relative novelty in a traditionally Christian country. This, combined with high-profile followers such as Richard Gere and Tina Turner, can make it attractive to those in search of a new spiritual path. But, while many express an interest in Buddhism or attend classes in Buddhist meditation, the faith has a high turnover. “Buddhism has a reputation as an accepting faith,” says Prof Schmidt-Leukel. “But if you study and practise you realise that it is as rigid on matters of sexual practice as any other world religion. It requires commitment, it puts strong limits on your behaviour.”

JOYCE HENDERSON, 42, has always sought answers to the big questions of life. Baptised in the Church of Scotland, she first encountered Buddhism, as so many teenagers do, in the pages of Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, which tells the story of a search for enlightenment. The death of her brother, William, from cancer when she was just 26 accentuated her questioning. A few years later, while on a Buddhist retreat in Shropshire, she discovered that meditation had greater benefits than prayer. “I feel in Buddhism I’m seeking answers in the right place. I’m sure the same answers can be found in Christianity, but I felt it was in a coded language I couldn’t understand,” she says.

Nicola Nisbet, 19, a student in public art at Falkirk College, encountered Buddhism through her teacher while studying for higher philosophy. She attended her first class in Buddhist meditation in January and on 2 July will become a Mitra – a person who considers themselves a Buddhist – during a short ceremony where she places flowers, a candle and incense by the Buddha’s statue. “I don’t believe there is a god,” said Nicola. “But Buddhism will help me to be a better person while I am here and I want to find peace within myself.”

Buddhism’s hip appeal is broached in Anne Donovan’s novel, Buddha Da, in which Jimmy, a Glaswegian painter and decorator, goes in search of enlightenment. Although not a Buddhist herself, Donovan has taken classes in meditation and will be attending the Dalai Lama’s talk this weekend. “I have a great respect for the culture and spirt of Buddhism and meditation. Anything that encourages people to slow down their busy lives and appreciate the now can only be helpful.”

Scotland’s first brush with Buddhism came in 1967, when Samye Ling, the first Tibetan Buddhist centre in the West, was established by two Tibetan rinpoches or “precious ones”. The pair had fled Chinese-occupied Tibet in 1959, and were attracted by the location’s serene surroundings. For the next 25 years, the community gathered lay students of Buddhism and supported only a handful of monks and nuns. In 1992, the centre was animated by the arrival of a new abbot, Lama Yeshe, the brother of the original founder. One young monk described him as “the rock’n’roll rebel of institutionalised religion”.

UNLIKE THE vast majority of Tibetan monks who enter holy orders as children, Lama Yeshe had experienced life in all its western decadence. Although born in Tibet and raised in a monastery, he fled to India at the age of 15 and spent his 20s in America, where he rode a motorcycle, had a string of girlfriends and developed a passion for Hendrix. Drawn back to his faith, he took his vows aged 30.

When Lama Yeshe arrived at Samye Ling he set about making it more accessible to western minds. Instead of taking vows for life, he introduced a probationary scheme, an unprecedented move in Tibetan Buddhism. He was accessible to the media and turned the monastery into an international destination for courses and seminars for those interested in all aspects of Tibetan life. Last year saw the fruition of his Holy Island project – when the retreat centre for world peace was finally opened.

In Glasgow during the early 1970s, just as Samye Ling was becoming established, a group of young Scots, infused by the vibe of the times, were experimenting with meditation. Sangharakshita, a Buddhist teacher of the Western Buddhist Order, lent his services and a centre was established. For the last 25 years the Glasgow Buddhist Centre has been based up a tenement close on Sauchiehall Street, bringing a stillness of mind and clarity of thought to a generation of curious Scots.

The current director is Viryadevi, formerly Maggie Graeber, a 51-year-old former music teacher. Each morning at 7am she sits before a Buddha figure and lights a candle to signify the light of wisdom, looks at the flowers to remind her of the impermanence of all things and breathes in incense that represents the spirit. She then meditates for 40 to 60 minutes. Today the centre has 60 Mitras, while four times this number attend meditation classes.

“The appeal of Buddhism, for me, was that it was not necessary to take on a set of beliefs,” explains Devi. “Buddhism taught me in practicable terms how to be kind to myself and to other people. Other people may be drawn because there is a distrust of organised religion, which is a pity because all religions have to be organised. For me there is depth to Buddhism, but it is also very practical.”

• Tickets for the Dalai Lama’s talks on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the SECC are priced at £20 per day and available from the SECC box office on 0870 040 4000

Original article no longer available…

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Buddhism: the new religion of choice for 30-somethings (Sunday Herald, Scotland)

Jenifer Johnston, Sunday Herald, Scotland: When the Dalai Lama visits Scotland this summer he will find fertile ground for his teachings. Experts believe the number of Buddhists in the country has risen past the 10,000 mark and is growing. The Glasgow Buddhist Centre has had to set up waiting lists for its meditation classes, informal Buddhist meditation and teaching groups have sprung up across the land and the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery, in Dumfries, is expanding to accommodate the increase in visitor numbers .

The Dalai Lama’s visit in May is expected to encourage thousands more to take up one of the few booming faiths in the western world.

The 2001 Census recorded 6800 Buddhists in Scotland but, according to Dr Perry Schmidt-Leukel, an expert in Buddhism at Glasgow University, the true number is greater . “The Census was the first real statistic about the number of Buddhists in Scotland, but some wilder estimates put the number in the UK at around 500,000 people,” he said.

He believes that celebrity interest in Buddhism has prompted some people to join. “It is fashionable to flirt with the religion. It provides insights into the very questions of human existence and Buddhism gets a very good press through the media.

“The Dalai Lama is a very symbolic and sympathetic figure to the media, as are the number of celebrities who are following the religion, including singer Tina Turner and actor Richard Gere.”

Dr Brenda E Brasher, an expert in the sociology of religion at Aberdeen University, said Buddhism has lots of appeal for young Scots.

“Because Buddhism is a way of understanding the self and the cosmos it is particularly attractive to young people who are not strong in believing in organised religion. The way Buddhism is practised in the West makes it viable for people who want to be spiritual without being religious, it suits a lot of people, it’s easy to fit it into the life you have, without denying yourself too much.

“Christian churches in Scotland seem to be behind the times – while business runs 24/7, the church is still a staid Sunday activity, and peoples lives don’t fit into that. But meditation for example can be done anywhere at anytime, so it is contemporary way of being spiritual.”

Erik Cramb, convener of the Church of Scotland’s committee on ecumenical relations, agreed that traditional faiths could seem grey compared to the lure of something new. “I think people can be turned off the religions of their childhood – it is a natural instinct for young people especially to venture away from what their parents practise. The church, if seen as something that represents your parents, can seem a bit boring, a reputation the church has probably lived up to on occasion.

“Buddhism offers the chance to step back and think for a lot of people.”

Buddhism focuses on personal spiritual development, rather than worship of a deity. Followers formally join a community by being ordained.

Hugh Green, who organises Buddhist meetings in Perth, said interest in the faith is growing. “There are 40 or 50 active Buddhists in the area, compared to a very small number three years ago,” he said. “Lots of groups are popping up all over the place, and I can see a real acceptance of Buddhism happening all the time.”

Joyce Henderson, who has worked for the civil service and in public relations, has spent the past six years volunteering at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre . She said: “I was brought up in the Church of Scotland but Buddhism gives you the tools to change yourself. When I first became interested in Buddhism there weren’t that many others in Scotland to learn from but that has certainly changed. I am quite conventional, but I’ve realised that it doesn’t matter how many material things you have, it really doesn’t satisfy you.”

Dr Patrick Nicholson, a physicist at Glasgow University, began finding out more about Buddhism in 1998. “With hindsight I think I had been looking for something spiritual for a while. It has changed my life – five years ago I became a vegetarian, I meditate every day, and I keep in mind the ethics of Buddhism that have become part of my life.”

Sally Watson, a marketing officer at Strathclyde University, said that while she is not ready to be ordained into Buddhism, it is now a permanent part of her life.

“When I first went to the Buddhist Centre in Glasgow 13 or 14 years ago it was quite hippy, but now there are a wide range of people and ages who go. It has definitely become a much more acceptable thing to be a part of.”

The Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery in Dumfries is in the middle of a major building programme to accommodate visitors . Ani Lhamo, a nun at the centre, said: “There is so much disillusionment with modern life and materialistic society. Twenty years ago it did tend to be the dreamy, hippy people coming, but now there are accountants, teachers, doctors and workers all looking for happiness and contentment.”

Cosmopolitan recently launched a new section to examine modern faiths. Section editor Hannah Borno said: “Young women seem not to be adopting Buddhism wholesale, but are extracting aspects of it that suit their lifestyle, for example doing 15 minutes of meditation in the morning and evening.”

[Original article no longer available]
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Meditation for ‘Christmas rage’

Christmas shoppers in Manchester are being offered a remedy for stress.

The Manchester Buddhist Centre is showing a video on the BBC Big Screen in Exchange Square giving a free lesson in meditation.

The video will give shoppers the chance to learn basic meditation techniques.

Shoppers, office workers, and passers-by will be encouraged to follow the meditation on screen on Friday lunchtime.

Helpers will be on hand in the square from Manchester Buddhist Centre.

Munisha, from the Manchester Buddhist Centre, says: “I think it’s just very good to come back to this still centre, come back to breathing, thinking ‘Ah yes, I’m a human being and I wasn’t just born to shop’.”

And psychologists say Christmas rage is as much a reality as road rage or air rage…

David Holmes, psychologist at Manchester Metropolitan University, says people can undergo incredible stress at Christmas.

“Christmas really puts on a lot of pressure, specifically on those who have to organise it, and they will be the ones who suffer the most.”

Read the rest of the article…

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