First Results from the Questionnaire on parenting and practice/lifestyle in Triratna
Interkula August 2018
The Inter Kula responded to a number of recent discussions in Triratna including a statement from the Adhisthana Kula, around parenting and practice/lifestyle, by producing an online questionnaire for self completion last year. This covered a range of topics related to parenting in Triratna.
This report focuses on the responses to people’s experience and views of practising at a local centre and their experience of the Triratna environment around parenting.
This questionnaire was posted on the Interkula website, with invitations to complete it being posted on a number of Triratna Facebook groups, such as the Triratna Families Group, Triratna Order Member Group and Oms and AHs a group for GFR Mitras and Order members. It was also publicized on the Buddhist Centre Online under Triratna Buddhist families and a link to the questionnaire was posted on Threads, one of the Order forums there.
We received 123 discrete responses, and many people took time to give extra detailed responses to the questions.
Every survey has its limitations. The limitations of this survey are that it represents a very small percentage of people involved in Triratna. Survey participation was voluntary so respondents are likely skewed toward people already interested in the topic. The survey was also skewed toward people who have internet access since it was an online survey and are fluent in English. Any conclusions drawn from the survey should bear these limitations in mind.
Demographics of Respondents
Respondents ages ranged from 20’s to over 70, with the majority of respondents being aged 40 – 60. More than two thirds of the respondents identify as female.
Peoples length of involvement ranged from less than five years to more than 20 years. More than half of the respondents have been involved for more than a decade. More than 90% of respondents were Mitras and Order members, indicating responses came from people with strong interest and personal investment in Triratna.
As expected given the topic of the survey, the majority of respondents were parents.
We hope that the results will build on our discussions in the Order and movement around parenting, practice and lifestyle and encourage us to engage with parents as genuine Dharma practitioners.
Some of the results also point to areas of best practice and where we could build our resources to support parents and families.
1. Do you believe that there should be activities that include children at your local Centre?
There is remarkable consensus on this issue: 93% of respondents said that some, but not all, events should include children. While there may be differences of opinion about which events are appropriate for children and what proportion of events are child-friends, the vast majority of respondents want children included in their centre life in some way, while also acknowledging that some types of events would be not be appropriate for children to be present.
At the other end of the spectrum 4.1% responded that all events should include children while 1.2 % responded that no event should include children.
There were 47 responses in the free comments box for this question. These included:
‘Centre staff do not organise any events for children and families and if not for this couple organising them, I doubt any would happen at all’.
‘I prefer to attend the centre without my children. It is, to me, a place of quiet concentrated practice, where I can deepen my practice and then take those benefits home to my family.’
‘I haven’t attended a Buddhist centre since my first child was born 4 years ago, it simply stopped as nothing was child friendly in the area I lived in.’
‘trying to join in’ on local sangha events since having my child has been my darkest chapter with Triratna. I felt really ashamed that I was being met by what felt like unfriendliness, resistance and bordering on cruelty, im sorry to say’.
‘I would like to see Triratna developing a culture like other faiths have where it is a natural thing that children can come along and participate with their families and are welcomed as the next generation of people interested in Buddhism.’
2. Is it the responsibility of a Triratna group or Centre to provide activities that are accessible to parents?
Responses to this question were on a scale of 1 – 5 to indicate the degree of responsibility respondents felt Triratna Centres held for providing activities accessible to parents. The high the number, the greater the degree of responsibility the respondent felt that Triratna Centres and Groups should take for providing parent accessible activities. The average score was 3.8 on a scale of 1 – 5, indicating that the majority of respondents feel that Triratna groups and centres bear a fair degree of responsibility for providing parent-accessible activities. Only a minority of respondents, 6 out of 114 (5%) responded that they felt Triratna groups or centres bore no responsibility for providing parent-accessible activities.
3. What does your local centre do that encourages parents to participate?
There were 97 written responses with a wide variety of responses from centres offering nothing to a whole range of activities.
‘There are fathers clubs, everyone sanghas, everyone pujas, some family retreats’
‘Runs family days and family friendly activities on festival days, but these are organised by parents for parents. It should not be solely the centres responsibility, it should be shared’.
‘Children are welcomed at social events , festival days and family retreats. People at our local centre ask about family members and are helpful in directing those practising in family context to resources that might be helpful. Some sangha members have offered to mind children so a friend could go on GFR retreat or meditation retreat’.
‘Sangha activities geared to all ages young children through young adults, festival days, sangha gatherings, community friendship and support for parents ‘
‘very little specifically…I take my son to the centre sometimes as he likes it’
‘Nothing at present’
‘Not much at this point’
‘There are a couple of people leading children’s events but there has not been sufficient communication nor advocacy I believe’
‘Tolerate the occasional baby crying on a festival day’.
‘Not able so far to offer anything’
4. Are there aspects of your local centre that you have found discouraging and unsupportive as a parent ?
There were 57 responses:
24% said that they thought there were no discouraging and unsupportive aspects at their local centre. However 75% of respondents had experienced or saw discouraging aspects at their centres.
‘Lack of interest by those without kids’
‘no but it is obvious that some people would prefer children not to be around during puja’
‘Few kids around’
‘Little opportunity for children’
‘Not at all just lack of programming’
‘Mostly the lack of parenting-practice experience in the sangha at that time – not much available in the way of advice or role models.’
‘A lot! I feel really let down by my local centre and some order members who run it – pre having children i met some positive views on parenting but was also told it’s not a ‘spiritual thing to do’. After having a child when i needed the support of my sangha the most – i felt treated like an outsider, an annoyance even.’
‘Yes. Being told by OMs that it isn’t appropriate to bring a child to the centre. That the centre is not a creche…. Being asked by OMs why cant i just get a sitter…. OMs and other GFR mitras not understanding why retreats lasting more than a weekend are too long for me…’
The Triratna Environment around Parenting
5. Have you have felt in the past ,that in Triratna parenting has been communicated as a barrier to practice?
Responses to this question were on a scale from 1-5; a response of 1 indicated that parenting was communicated as a barrier to practice, 5 indicated that parenting was welcomed.
Out of 89 responses to this question, the average response was 2.1, indicating that the message about parenting and practice was negative for most people.
Significantly, the responses in the extremes are notable: 40% of respondents answered 1: parenting was communicated as a barrier to practice, while 62%, answered 1 or 2. Only 1 respondent answered 5: parenting was welcomed. Only 12% answered 4 or 5.
There were 60 responses in the free comments box to this question including:
‘I was told explicitly by an order member that the Buddha taught that householders could not become enlightened.’
‘there was always an unofficial attitude of children being a disaster for your spiritual life , you wouldn’t be able to meditate etc’.
‘It was very much in the air in the first several years I attended, and eventually asked for ordination. It got to the point where it seemed I had to decide whether to “go forth” or stay with my family’.
‘Being pressured to not have children or as part of pre-ordination retreats.’
‘Was told i could not practice whole heartedly if i decided to have children’
‘Bhante’s statements and books explicitly stated this position. I am very encouraged to see and hear the Adhistana Kula addressing and updating the position of Triratna.’
‘Comments like ‘you’ve only decided to have a family because you’re uninspired by the dharma’. That was from a public preceptor’.
‘Being told to wait till children are grown before practicing’.
‘This only happened decades ago’
‘I’ve heard several times that parenting limits the time available for practice and for contributing to the work of the Centre — I think that’s true. It’s also a big opportunity for practice and I’ve heard that too.’
‘Not from my local Centre. I read some statements in a book by Subhuti. However, there has been lots of supportive info too – I’m reading Buddhism for Parents, which is great’.
‘my personal experience at my local centre with individuals was always encouraging and supportive. It was more the general ideology that was unhelpful’.
6. What do you find the most family friendly elements of Triratna?
There were 68 responses and 40% of respondents said that Buddhafield, including Buddhafield North, was the most child friendly element of Triratna. There were 3 mentions of the International retreat.
‘Buddhafield is amazing for inclusivity (not just parenting) the centre’s could learn a great deal’
‘Buddhafield events (esp; the village retreats), the sangha in India (my limited experience of them), the international gathering.’
‘Family friendly Puja’s’
‘Friendships – sangha friends understood and respected my family life. Also a sangha friend stayed with my family when I went away to be ordained – a very generous and supportive gift.’
‘None locally to date but again not a centre’
‘Can’t really think of anything’
7. Is there anything else that you would like to see in order for Triratna to be supportive to parents as practitioners?
There were 71 responses a selection of the comments received include:
‘Make the statement that “such ideas no longer form a part of Triratna teachings” into a positive – that “here is how we consciously mentor and support people who are parents”.’
‘Public recognition and apology for previous exclusivity and negative attitudes, views and actions.’
‘More parents on teams, asked to teach on ordination/ gfr retreats so that mitras see and experience a mix of people.’
‘That’s up to them really isn’t it? They can talk to spiritual friends about there practice like everyone else, they chose there lifestyle if they want support they can seek it out in the same way anyone else would have to.’
‘We need to address what we call in the business world the “maternal wall”… Children are not an add on, a luxury topic we can get to later when we are larger or have a physical center’.
‘The assumption that parents can leave for extended retreats to qualify for ordination is a tremendous barrier.’
‘Have the topic as part of the centre team agenda when planning activities classes day events’
‘more order members /mitras who have families to give talks or share their experiences of parenting and practicing.’
The Interkula will continue to analyse the results from the Questionnaire and publish them in the future.