Triratna Buddhist Order

Buddhist centre plans for derelict Southampton pub

A Buddhist group is trying to turn a boarded up derelict Southampton pub into a meditation centre.

The Plume of Feathers Pub in the St Mary’s area of the city has been boarded up for several months.

The Triratna Buddhist Order’s Southampton group has submitted a planning application to develop the pub in St Mary Street.

Leader Dharma Modna declined to comment on the proposal until the planning application had been heard.

Local councillor Sarah Bogle said: “I think it’s a really novel idea.

“I was surprised, to be honest, when I saw the planning application but also I thought why not?

“It’s …

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Support the struggles of marginalized Buddhists in Hungary

A petition has been started in order to protect the rights of Buddhist Gypsies, or Roma, in Hungary.

This year a nationalist government was elected in Hungary. The new government rewrote the constitution and passed a law that deregisters all but a few mainstream Christian and Jewish religious organisations. These steps were taken with the aim of curbing tax abuses, but the blunderbuss policy “de-registers” all faith groups that count fewer than 1,000 members, or that have been in existence for less than 20 years.

Groups that manage to get established — and stay established for 20 years — and accumulate over 1000 members, cannot get official recognition without a parliamentary vote with a two-thirds majority. This amounts to an impossibly high hurdle, meaning that essentially no new groups can get government recognition and enjoy the tax benefits that established traditions have.

This affects many organizations, since under the new law, only 14 of 358 registered churches and religious associations will be granted legal recognition according to Christian Century. Groups such as Methodists, Pentecostal churches, reformed Jewish churches, and all the Islamic, Buddhist, and Hinduist congregations, are being de-registered.

Prominent pro-democracy dissidents from the Soviet era have written a letter condemning the new law. “Never before has a Member State of the EU so blatantly dared to go against the principles of freedom of beliefs, equality before the law, and separation of church from state. These are all established fundamental rights in our common Europe,” they said.

Some established churches have welcomed the law. Zoltan Tarr, general secretary of the Hungarian Reformed Church, commented, “We wanted a new law to make it more difficult to establish churches here – and we’re happy the present government has now done something.”

Buddhism, as a religion that is relatively new to Europe, is badly affected by the new system; no Buddhist organizations will be allowed to have tax-exempt status. Among those affected are the marginalized Roma, or Gypsies, who have recently embraced Buddhism.

Historically, the Roma people originated in India, leaving, for unknown reasons, about 1000 years ago. One theory is that the name Roma is derived from the Sanskrit ḍōmba, meaning “a man of low caste living by singing and music.” If the Roma left India in order to escape caste discrimination, they fared little better in Europe, where they have often been a despised population. Recently, however, Hungarian Roma, inspired by the conversions of Indian Dalits (former so-called “Untouchables”) to Buddhism, have formed the Jai Bhim network, under the umbrella of the Triratna Buddhist Community.

The name Jai Bhim is an explicit reference to the leader of the conversion movement in India, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. Sensing a deep affinity with the Dalits of India, Roma converts to Buddhism refer to themselves as “the Dalits of Europe. The Jai Bhim Network “educates, agitates and organises on the footsteps of Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar in schools and congregations in rural Roma communities.” The organization was formally established in 2007 in order to promote the social integration of Romas, and has received support from Buddhists in Europe, India, and Taiwan.

When the Jai Bhim Network’s registration lapses at the end of this year, they will lose government funding for the schools that they run, and will find it very difficult to continue to provide education to the 1,000 students who study with them.

Subhuti, an English-born Buddhist who is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, has a long-standing involvement with the Dalit Buddhists in India, and for six years has gone to Hungary twice a year in order to support Roma Buddhists.

According to Subhuti, the work that the Roma Buddhists he supports is beginning to flourish. “Besides the very effective education they offer to Gypsy students who have no other realistic opportunities for education, they are beginning to have a deeper impact on Hungarian Gypsy society. At the recent census, some 500 or more Gypsies declared themselves to be Buddhists.” He sees this as a very significant development, similar to the mass conversions that took place in India in 1956, when Ambedkar let tens of thousands of Dalits to Buddhism.

Those concerned about the situation of these marginalized Buddhists in Hungary can show their support by signing this online petition. A second online petition can be found here. (On the petition Név means Name and Foglalkozás means Occupation.)

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“The Yogi’s Joy,” by Sangharakshita

"The Yogi's Joy," by SangharakshitaHow would you feel if your teacher burned your book collection? A new book by Sangharakshita highlights a challenging friendship between a Tibetan guru and his disciple.

A good dharma book is humbling. It is like a spiritual friend who isn’t afraid of cutting through our defenses in the service of positive change. Sangharakshita’s new book, exploring three songs of Milarepa, challenged me in this way. The material is compiled from edited transcripts of seminars Sangharakshita gave to members of the Triratna Buddhist Order (formerly the Western Buddhist Order) in the late 70’s, about Milarepa, his songs and the spiritual life. The songs chosen are about spiritual friendship and its challenges. We get to see Milarepa beginning a relationship with one of his close disciples, Rechungpa. We get to watch as they get in tune with each other.

Title: The Yogi’s Joy: Songs of Milarepa
Author: Sangharakshita
Publisher: Windhorse Publications
ISBN: 1-899-57966-4
Available from: Windhorse Publications (UK), and Amazon.com.

Milarepa was a Tibetan yogi who lived 1052–1135 C.E. in medieval Tibet. The basic outline of Milarepa’s life is that he was cheated out of land by some relatives. He used black magic to create a storm that killed the thieves, and then, fearing that he would have a bad rebirth, he turned to the spiritual life in order to save himself. He went to Marpa for teachings. Marpa made him build, tear down and rebuild a tower, as a way to cleanse his karma. (You can go see the last tower Milarepa built, it still exists, the tower is situated in Lhodrak district, north of the Bhutanese border.) When Milarepa was ready and his karma was cleansed, Marpa told him to go and meditate in caves.

 Legend has it that in Milarepa’s last teaching he flashed his calloused butt to a student to suggest how hard you need to meditate.  

Milarepa is famous for his rigorous practice and his asceticism. He is said to have turned green from eating nettles, which formed the main component of his diet. One day the wind was so fierce that Milarepa passed out, and when he awakened his robe was gone. He liked to flout convention, and there are many stories of him being naked, or showing his body. Legend has it that in his last teaching he flashed his calloused butt to a student to suggest how hard you need to meditate. There is a spiritual intensity here that’s not for dilettantes. This is more of a spirituality of confrontation than of comfort, and Milarepa’s spiritual intensity and commitment, while it can seem inspiring, can also seem extreme and frightening.

The songs in The Yogi’s Joy are taken from The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, which is the written records of Milarepa’s songs: the spiritual poems that he would sing as a way of teaching people the Dharma. Apparently it’s not too hard to improvise songs in the Tibetan language because of its structure. Ordinary folk would often sing as they worked, and Sangharakshita met many Tibetans in Kalimpong in the 1950’s who would improvise songs. The Yogi’s Joy is good at setting the historical stage, and at translating Milarepa’s teachings into a modern context.

 We know enough Dharma; doing it is the hard thing.  

Milarepa’s relationship with his discipline Rechungpa is at the heart of this book. Rechungpa went off to India to get some teaching, and comes back haughty and puffed up. He no longer wants to hang out with his guru Milarepa in caves, and instead wants to find some sponsors to give him a good meal and lodging. But Milarepa gets Rechungpa to go out for water, and while he’s away on this errand, Milarepa burns his books. This would have been a challenging moment in a spiritual friendship, I imagine. There’s something emotionally challenging in being receptive to another person, because of the level of trust and vulnerability involved. It’s not easy to be open to a true spiritual friend.

As well as being a story about the friendship between Milarepa and Rechungpa, The Yogi’s Joy is the meeting between Milarepa and Sangharakshita — two people of great spiritual depth. Sangharakshita was born in England in 1925 and spent almost 20 years in the east practicing Buddhism. In 1967, in England, he founded a Buddhist order — the Triratna Buddhist Order — which has spread around the world. Sangharakshita says, “If any westerner practices even a hundredth part of what they have read, they are probably doing pretty well.” You could say this about reading Sangharakshita’s book. He has many intense spiritual teachings, which it would be easy to just keep reading past as we move on to the next one. But to connect with spiritual teachings, to let them percolate into the deepest part of us, requires lingering reflecting, and — most importantly — putting the teachings into practice in one’s life.

Sangharakshita goes so far as to suggest that the many Dharma books we read, often quickly and superficially, hinder our spiritual progress. My spiritual friends read very slowly while I have gobbled Dharma books over the past seven years, and I even read this book quickly when it first came out. Rereading it has been a sobering lesson on how little sticks when you rush. In another way it heartens me because there’s so much depth, I can return and return to the book and still find things I’ve not understood or forgotten. We know enough Dharma; doing it is the hard thing.

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