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I study, and try to practice, Vajrayana Buddhism. My main areas of interest are Chod, Kagyu and Nyingma traditions as well as Buddhisms interactions with the West, pop-culture and engaged Buddhism.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Well established communities.

In order for the Dharma to really become established, and accessible to the people who want it, in the West, a few things are hugely important. Whilst the personal and 'social' factors that need to be in place are closely linked, the personal factors, such as faith and diligence, have been covered much better than I am able to elsewhere, so I will instead just look at the social or group factors.

Whilst the Dharma is ultimately something we practice on our own, on the path it is hugely helpful to have support of other practitioners. Some interpretations of the Sangha Jewel cover this idea. There are three main types of community which I feel are essential for the Dharma to become entrenched in the West.

Firstly there is the need for a strong monastic ordained Sangha. This is important for the preservation of the lineages and teachings, and despite the protestations of pseudo-Dzogchenpas, the Buddha said it was essential too.

For these monastic communities to exist there needs to be consistent support from the lay community. It is unlikely, and unwise, to think that a few wealthy sponsors will keep the monastics fed and clothed. However there is so little support for Western monastics at the moment that this is an area where a cultural shift is definitely needed. As individuals I think the best thing we can do is get in the habit of offering Dhana to monastics, whilst encouraging others to do the same, whilst crucially doing it in a way which will be sustainable. Setting up long terms funds might be an idea.

Secondly there also needs to be sustainable support for those wishing to do long retreats, the traditional 3 years and longer. This should also be done for monastics and lay practitioners.

Thirdly Dharma centres need support in a non-sectarian and unbiased way. Whilst sectarianism is the poison which spoils practice, it's also very sadly commonplace. There are historic precedents for this in Asia, but in the West I think it's generally something that comes about mostly as a result of people being new to Dharma and thus not knowing what they are doing. It's really important that teachers stamp down hard on sectarianism early on so it doesn't have a chance to take root.

Fourthly there also needs to be support for translation projects and the training of translators. I'm in the early stages of the latter and have been fortunate to have support for the time being at least. However most people are not so lucky and there is a chance that some potentially fantastic translators are not developing their potential due to lack of support and thus opportunities. Translators on one level should be invisible, that is they should simply be a tool by which a teaching is transmitted, however it seems that in the West they are so invisible that people simply expect them to manifest at Dharma centres when needed. This isn't sustainable long term.

The above are all things which are doable on a social level, however if we all start developing the habits of supporting the above individually, and raising the topics in conversations with our Dharma brothers and sisters, then hopefully good ideas will develop into good habits and then spread.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Kotyk said...

Here is one example of a community that is thriving, building an actual temple (as opposed to a dharma centre) which supports at least one monk, though more to come in the future.