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The Triratna Story: Behind the Scenes of a New Buddhist Movement Paperback – 1 Jun 2010
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An excellent synopsis of the history of an important Buddhist movement through a half century of social change: a fluent narrative of pioneering spirit, triumphs, setbacks and learnings. --David Brazier, OAB, PhD, Head of the Amida-shu, author
A courageous and important book... it defies all expectations to tell the brilliant, troubled, and inspiring history of this unique Western Buddhist movement... this is a valuable and instructive text. --Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Founder of Everyday Zen Foundation and author of 'Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils and Pitfalls'
The Triratna Story is an account of the first 43 years of the FWBO s - now the Triratna Buddhist Community s - history. In his book Vajragupta combines thorough research his listening ear with wise reflection and, using his storyteller s touch, conjures up vivid scenes from the early history, from meetings, ordinations, public lectures, personal experiences. Above all he tells the story with a strong desire for balance and fairness; not avoiding the more painful, troublesome and confusing episodes and issues in the history of the Triratna Community. Both concise and comprehensive, the book describes the key events from the story so far and puts into a context some of the ideas and approaches that are still current, or perhaps that still exert their influence indirectly. That is particularly helpful for people relatively new to the Triratna Community. For those of us who have lived through a considerable chunk of its history it might fill in a few gaps in the chronology of events - sometimes useful to be reminded of - and gives us an opportunity to reflect on our personal histories. The story of the first four decades, as told by Vajragupta, offers us a pause for reflection, as well as encouragement and inspiration for the next chapter. --Vajrapushpa
About the Author
Vajragupta is the author of the best-selling, Buddhism: Tools for Living your Life.
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Take chapter 6: Trouble with Angels for example. Vajragupta starts by setting a broad basis for the events and developments that he is about to describe by sketching out the cultural and political milieu in which they took place. In his sketch he includes an apparent appreciation of ‘gay and lesbian liberation’ and ‘attitudes to sex and gender’. He then goes on to describe the emergence of the single-sex idea within the FWBO as it was then. The narrative that ensues covers a range of motivations that informed the spiritual logic and perceived benefits behind the setting up of single-sex communities, businesses and retreats. This range of motivations includes the possibility that, ‘the men were more easily attracted to Sangharakshita, and he could relate more easily to them’ on p73 to women’s ‘lack of skill and … unfamiliarity with hard physical labour’ on p74.
One facet that appears to be agreed upon is that single-sex communities, businesses and retreats avoided ‘complex and potentially messy dynamics around sexual attraction and projection’ (p77). Also that they, ‘reduced anxiety around the whole area of sex, needing to impress women, and compete with other men’ (p72). Having cast his net so wide and considered such a wide range of gender types and sexual persuasions, how did Vajragupta – and in fact the FWBO itself – come to focus so exclusively on the provision of conducive and non-distractive contexts for the spiritual practice of heterosexual men and women only? Why are the spiritual needs of gay men and women apparently not being considered and catered for? Surrounded by the same sex at home, at work and while on retreat, what are gay men and women to do with their sexual tension? Amid all the sophisticated and deeply considered contexts for spiritual development, how come no comparably conducive situations were set up for gay men and women? How did this apparently hetero-centric world develop, especially considering that the man on top, Sangharakshita, is a gay man himself? How strange that they should place such an emphasis upon heterosexuals? What a confusing omission to not cater for the spiritual needs of gay men and women.
‘Eventually, in 2003, Subhuti [said] “I regret that the article was published in the way that it was, giving it an official weight and authority” [Subhuti] had also come to the conclusion that it was difficult, if not impossible, to measure spiritual aptitude.’ (pg 81/2)
This is not an apology or an unqualified retraction then. Perhaps Subhuti has done so at some other time, but I cannot find it in this book. Note also, Subhuti’s own slide on the matter, where the book now becomes a mere ‘article’.
I think Sangharakshita’s hierarchy of evolution theory (which formed the basis of Subhuti’s book, and a video can be found on youtube published by Clear Vision Trust) is at the heart of Triratna still (entirely my own perspective of course), but I will give you an example. The most obvious one: that there is separation of the sexes at all. Would you not find it really weird if you went on, say, a cycling holiday, or a wine tasting course, and you were split into single sex groups? Would that make sense to you? Is it alright? I bet you wouldn’t think it was alright, if you heard people were being separated out on the basis of ethnicity, because that is inherently racist, not to mention illegal. End of.
In conclusion then, I think that this is a wheels-cha-cha of a book, constantly moving, but never really saying anything substantial, while claiming to tackle the issues head-on. A bit like the movement itself, one could say.