back to the future…

I recently re-read an article from some years ago that was written by Ken Jones, (available here), a founder of the UK Network of Engaged Buddhists, and was fascinated by the following passage which, considering that the article was written in 2006, makes the article quite prophetic and perceptive for its time given how things have moved on since 2006:

Many Buddhist organisations do sustain quite ambitious projects (like Samye-Ling’s Holy Island initiative) but none can equal the ambitiousness of the three movements [SGI-UK, FWBO, and NKT] — busy making new members, servicing the existing membership with professionally managed programmes to suit each grade, training teachers and middle managers, maintaining impressive publishing programmes, handling PR and promotion, mounting cultural and charitable projects, and even running “Right Livelihood” businesses (in the case of the FWBO). All this busyness arguably implies an imbalance between the traditional Buddhist virtues of virya (energy, forcefulness) and ksanti (spiritually creative humility and acceptance) — and, in the case of the FWBO, between “True Individuality” and anatta (no-self). Contemporary society already suffers from too much unreflective virya, and Buddhists-with-attitude sell it short in moving too far from the religion’s contemplative tradition. Surely the Fast Lane and the Middle Way are ultimately incompatible?

A more tangible cause of unease is that even if they were not as exclusivist as they are, the dominance of three such movements would be unhealthy for UK Buddhism. In the spirit of the Kalama Sutta free, personal, experiential search lies at the heart of Buddhism. Teacher and sangha exist to provide support and guidance, but that is all, and the ultimate guidance of the best teachers is to throw searchers back upon themselves, undercutting every successive clinging attachment — even to Buddhism or the teacher — or the movement… This is inner path religion. There is always the danger that the supportive institutional framework of community, doctrine and teacher will seduce searchers and become the end rather than the means, in this case filling their existential sense of “lack” with all the exhilarating righteousness of a missionary movement. That is the outer path, so easily confused with the other path. To make ideological movements out of Buddhist organisations is thus ultimately adhammic.

Seems like some mainstream Buddhists knew all along what was going to happen…


3 Comments on “back to the future…”

  1. Jon B says:

    Trouble is the people that need to see this most likely will not ! And if they did would be unwilling to change all their busyness ….

    • andydharma says:

      Perhaps so, but Ken Jones made this prediction, in the same article I quoted from in my post: “The NKT, however, displays numerous examples of intolerant paranoia. It does not deny, for example, that individuals have been expelled from NKT centres for “spreading disruptive information about NKT”. And at least one critic has been threatened with legal action in the event of the criticism being published. The ultimate fate of this kind of movement is usually factional disintegration, but with a lot of unpleasantness first…”. Again, that was said in 2006. How true that is turning out now! Also worth noting, I think, is that many in the NKT, perhaps including some high up within it, are undoubtedly following this blog, which has now passed the 12,000 mark in terms of numbers of visits. And judging from my contacts both within and outside the NKT, there are many indications of disintegration – slow to be sure, but steady and continuous nonetheless. All that busyness seems to be just piledriving into the sands…

      • Jon B says:

        Yes the signs are there for all to see, the more control the exert on the organisation the more it will slip through their hands.

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