Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A New Expansion: Triratna Groups

I have been very excited recently about how we might be able to make use of a Soka Gakkai/NKT Style of approach in order to create a new expansion, or even a new wing, to our movement. Sanghadeva and I have enthused over this idea during Vidyaruci’s Dharma training course and he has encouraged me to have a go at pushing the idea and writing this up. I think the movement needs this now and I’d love to see it happen.

The vision is about giving people the encouragement to have their own group and feel they are taking responsibility for the Triratna project themselves, with a support network of Kalyana Mitrata. Anyone can start a group by utilising Free Buddhist Audio where they can download a lead meditation and dharma talks. The group can be in their front room where they would play a lead meditation from FBA, have a cup of tea then play part of a talk from FBA which can be part of a series over a few weeks and have a discussion. They could also come up with questions together to put online onto a Triratna Groups website and get answers back. When the group expands to eight or more people they could split into two groups in order to continue expanding wherever there is a demand, for example in the next town or village. The group organiser can also encourage people in their group who might want to start their own group where they’re from.  Each group would have a contact person who would visit every so often and be a mentor. Each mentor could also be mentored. Every month or two the groups in the area could meet for a day or weekend retreat and perhaps invite their mentors to lead this. 

This makes people feel that they are responsible for the project of Triratna and especially that they are part of the project. Triratna is not something they come to consume with a take it or leave it attitude but something for them to get stuck into because they know the movement needs them. There’s a job to do – it hasn’t been done already. We are then encouraging responsibility and saying to people you can be part of our movement rather than on the sidelines. The need is huge; our voice hasn’t reached most parts of the world. In the East Buddhism is dying for want of a modern interpretation like ours and they have even asked for our help. Everywhere they have the internet they could have Triratna Groups. Especially at times like this our world will benefit from a movement like ours, the need is imminent and never before has the Dharma had technology to piggyback onto. We are only just seeing the beginning of technology and how it will affect communication (we use it or lose it!). When for example will we have lead meditation/puja perpetually Skyped in successive timezones where tens of thousands make an imaginative and real-time connection via the web?

I think the main first step is to adopt an approach where we just tell people that they can start their own group in their area and give encouragement, the resources are all out there in FBA; in many parts of the world FBA is all they might have. Then we would need to set up a support network which might consist of: A central website including; a place for putting up questions (like twitter perhaps), a start-up pack, groups organisation/contact info, maps, Triratna groups news, Triratna groups retreats, online forum, FBA link/content.  Also Mentors for the group/area (Postulant Mitras or Going for Refuge groups, could also be mentors as part of their Ordination Training and be mentored). Area/young person’s co-ordinators and overall organiser. Paper start-up packs. A code/principles for the groups to follow (which makes them Triratna groups) (Sanghadeva suggested something similar to the five precepts but more like a vision statement – something accessible like the happiness project, to spread happiness) 

Ideally the process would kick off, in Hull for example, with a six/eight week outreach Dharma course, run by the mentors, where part of the course would include preparing people to run their own group if they were keen. Then these people would carry on with their groups after the course. They could move the group around each other’s homes perhaps, when someone rings up about Triratna activities in or around their home town of Hull (which must have happened already, anyone know somebody in Hull?) we can direct them to the nearest Triratna Group, perhaps the nearest several groups. We will encourage the development of as many groups as possible so that everyone could have a group near them.

In that light it strikes me that all over the world people have FBA. It tells you all about Triratna Buddhism - every idea is in there, but it doesn’t seem to suggest you can be part of it. ‘The Get Involved’ page just talks about getting involved by giving money/etc, not by becoming part of the Triratna Buddhist Community and even starting your own group? When you click on ‘community’ you find it only talks about ‘user community’. FBA is one of the main faces of Triratna Buddhism but it doesn’t encourage this at the moment. Perhaps it could have a page with a start up pack showing you how to form your own local Triratna Group including how to run the group and suggestions of lead meditations to download and play, and talks to use. I’m not sure I would consider FBA as mainly for non Triratna use. 

I think the next expansion of the Triratna Community must use the accessibility of the group format and our new technologies which will overcome the obstacle of physical distance. Let’s hope our technological development continues; we see its downsides but imagine what would happen if we lost it now, we should pray that never happens and defend the freedom technology gives us.

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