In our previous post, we referred to a statement from the Adhisthana Kula. On this occasion, we would like to discuss the last of their four points, as it is perhaps the least explored of the four:
“… we would like to take this opportunity to make it clear that the following ideas form no part of Triratna teaching today:
“…that single people are spiritually superior to those in relationships or with families”
One of the issues that seems to have dogged the Order over the years is the place of family members within the community. Sangharakshita took a radical step when he founded an Order that was neither Monastic nor Lay and based on the principle that Commitment is Primary and Lifestyle Secondary. So how come there appears to be an issue?
When you come along to Triratna the suggestion is that, through commitment to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we can be happier and freer from suffering, and that we are the right context for doing making that commitment. We are totally dedicated to that and we are open to men and women equally and are neither ‘monastic’ nor ‘lay’.
However as people get more involved, they often meet people living and advocating a ‘quasi monastic’ lifestyle that is very different from the family life they themselves may be living. It can feel that, to progress one’s engagement with Triratna, you need to take on practices or even a lifestyle that don’t make sense or fit with a family life.
Even though Triratna has undoubtedly benefited many, and continues to do so, some parents have attested that this expectation or assumption has had a detrimental effect on their engagement and in some cases their children. Are we making the changes we need to in order to make sure this doesn’t happen? Is there more we can do to make Triratna a healthy place of practice for those with families?
Some Short Stories
“I spent the 1990s active within the institutions of the movement – working for the Karuna Trust, whilst active in the local Buddhist Centre and living in communities. Soon after my ordination in 2000, I became a father. I was shocked to find that pretty much nothing I had learned about how to practice seemed to apply any longer.
It took me some 10 years to form my own approach to practice, that worked for me as a parent. In the process I found a range of approaches to collective practice within a Sangha that seem to have value to local situations that have tried them, and I would love to see these approaches shared more widely within Triratna, so that parents can take a more active part in the future life of our community.”
The daughter of an Order Member, writes:
“I had the most exposure to Triratna when my mum was involved with the LBC and the ordination process during the mid 90s to the 2010s. This was from when I was 12 onwards.
I have never had the best impression of the movement. At the beginning it was clear that there was not a lot of space (physical or mental) for children at the LBC. If I hadn’t been as old as I was the fact that my Mum was raising me as a single parent on limited income would have made attending the classes and being involved nearly impossible.
There weren’t any child related activities at the LBC and the limited community of parents mainly had much younger children (or their older children were not involved at all). So I didn’t really have much direct exposure to the LBC at the start.
The indirect emotional effect of the LBC and the mitra/ordination process was very strong. Being an older only child of a single parent we discussed what happened in our lives and the unhappiness, stress and doubt caused by the senior order members running both the mitra process and later the ordination process crossed over into my life. This was despite my mum keeping many specifics from me while I was young. I was of no consequence to any of these order members and their ability to dehumanise a child to such an extent is frankly appalling.
Even without those specifics it was clear that Mum was meant to be a lot more wealthy and a lot more childless to be ordained. The process relied on retreats which were financially inaccessible and almost impossible as a single parent and of course this would in theory end with an ordination retreat of six weeks it would be completely impossible to do as a sole carer (at this point in time ordination in country was unusual and counted against you). They also wanted you in a community. My relationship with my mum meant I never thought I was a burden but frankly with a less secure parent/child relationship that would be a likely outcome.
The absolute insistence and stubbornness from the order members involved on these sorts of points were clearly actions causing direct harm to more than one person and not at all of benefit to the movement or the dharma.
I offer this in the hope that it is useful to the Triratna community. I do not particularly want to be contacted about it.
A common response when a parent asks for additional support from Triratna institutions, is the suggestion that they organise something themselves. In practice, this often turns out not to be effective. Why might this be so? Could it be because the structures have an implicit bias built into them?
Responsibility for broadening out our community rests with the whole community. What we want to see is discussion amongst parents and non-parents alike about how we all practice, and how it suits, or doesn’t suit us all.
Feedback and Questionnaire
We are putting together a questionnaire that we will be publishing shortly which we hope will help unpack the compact statement by the Adhisthana Kula. Responses to this will only be published in aggregate, or quoted without names attached.
Whether you are a parent, know a parent, or are a (grown up) child of a member of the Triratna community, we would like to hear from you. If you would like to share a story direct with us about your experience relating to parents and parenting in the Order or community, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We won’t share anything in public without your permission.
Whether forums or threads on The Buddhist Centre Online, on Facebook groups, or in smaller groups, we’d love to see the topics we raise being discussed widely.
Of particular relevance in this case might be the Triratna Buddhist Parents Network on Facebook. When joining, please do answer the forum’s introductory questions as it really helps the forum admins recognise your involvement in Triratna and get you into the group quicker.
Face-to-Face Meetings and Existing Facilities for Parents
First of all a request to facilitators…. please ensure that children are welcome at such gatherings! They don’t necessarily require specific childcare, although that would no doubt be tremendously helpful. There is a wealth of experience within our movement about how to facilitate gatherings where children of various ages are present. If you would like a assistance, please contact us at email@example.com and we will be most willing to help you establish a beneficial environment for all present.
We would really appreciate hearing any feedback about how such sessions go, and any content, or ideas that were raised. You can either share feedback online, or mail us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are various parent friendly activities around Triratna, be it Buddhafield family friendly retreats in Devon, Suffolk, North England, Sussex, etc, and events at local Centres such as the LBC Sunday School. If you want to know more, we suggest you join the Triratna Buddhist Parents Network on Facebook and ask there.
Spreading the Word
If groups do not occur at your centre, please do discuss these questions with friends in Triratna, and with local Order members – we really hope that discussion is broad and far-reaching.
Please do share this post with any parents or people in positions of responsibility within Triratna – including those with whom you disagree, as that is when the discussion will be most fruitful.
We sincerely hope that the questions raised in this post lead to useful discussion, and look forward to hearing how it all goes. Whilst we’ve got many ideas and bucketloads of useful material to share about practice as a parent, as have many others, we wanted to hear from others before we share.