Bristol Buddhist Centre was founded in 1981 by members of the, then, Western Buddhist Order – now known as the Triratna* Buddhist Order. The Order was founded in 1968, in London, by Sangharakshita, an Englishman who had spent over 20 years living in the East and practising Buddhism with teachers from a range of different Buddhist Traditions. Triratna now has 80 Centres worldwide – both urban Buddhist Centres and rural retreat Centres – including a large Sangha (community) in India, where the Dharma is transforming the lives of many who had been trapped in the caste system.
In founding our Order and movement (known as the Triratna Buddhist Community), Sangharakshita’s vision was to create an effective Sangha to enable people to change their lives through really practising the fundamentals of what the Buddha taught. The ‘other regarding’ or altruistic dimension has always been central to his teaching – in the Buddhist tradition this has been symbolised by the Bodhisattva, a being who vows to gain enlightenment for sake of all beings. In creating the Triratna Buddhist Order, Sangharakshita has brought into being a community of people dedicated to this end.
Described as ‘radically traditional’, Sangharakshita has always placed great emphasis on going back to the earliest recorded teachings of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. At the same time, he has recognised that it’s essential for us each ‘to find emotional equivalents for our intellectual understanding’. This means engaging creatively with what the Buddha taught, using our imagination, as well as our reason, to find sustainable ways of putting the Dharma into practice in our everyday lives. One way of summing this up might be that basic Dharma + imagination = magic. That is to say, that when we can find a way truly to engage both head AND heart in pursuit of our highest ideals, there’s no limit to the possibilities that can unfold.
Sangharakshita has enumerate six ‘emphases’ of our Order and Community which between them give a good flavour of what we’re about:
- Centrality of Going for Refuge – described by Sangharakshita as ‘the central Buddhist act’ which defines what it truly is to be a follower of the Buddha and is what Buddhists of all traditions and schools have in common.
- Spiritual Friendship – the Buddha said that ‘friendship is the whole of the spiritual life’ and a particular emphasis of Triratna is on spiritual friendship and the creation of an effective community of Dharma-farers.
- Ecumenical – Triratna is not aligned with any one strand of the Buddhist tradition, but open to any teachings and practices which genuinely reflect and enable us to practise what the Buddha actually taught.
- Right-Livelihood – the work that we do affects the life we are able to lead and how we are able to practise.
- The Arts/Imagination – we need to engage the heart/emotions as well as the mind to practise the Dharma effectively.
- One ordination – the same for men and women, wherever in the world they are practising.
* ‘Triratna’ is the sanskrit word for ‘three jewels’, the three most precious things in Buddhism – the Buddha, his teachings (the Dharma) and the community of his followers (the Sangha).