What the movement needs is a newsletter

Jayarava is a writer, artist and musician, and started the FWBO Newsletter in 2004, and was ordained in 2005.

I got involved in the FWBO in one of our outlying provinces, New Zealand. Activities started in New Zealand in 1971, before 99% of the current order were ordained! When you live in outlying areas you can either become indifferent to the outside world, or you can crave to know more about it. A lot of Kiwis travel, we're famous for it, and the reason, I believe, is that we just want to know what's going on! Unlike the English we only resort to talking about the weather is our companion is boring. Our first question is always "Howzit going?", and this is followed up by "So, what have you been up to?".

So it was with increasing sadness that I watched the demise of most of the FWBO media to which I had access. Goldren Drum, an inhouse publication, became Dharmalife a bright more outward looking magazine, which did well but also passed away. Then the newsreels ceased - I never knew why and was appalled to read recently in the FWBO News that it was due to mounting criticism within the movement. I still miss them. As a mitra I was cut off from the wider FWBO world, and as an order member since last year, I am only slightly better off.

This breakdown of internal communication channels came at a time when the order was burgeoning by several dozen new members each year. Bhante Sangharakshita had handed on his responsibilities, only to become ill and effectively out of the picture for more than a year. Yahsomitra wrote his letter saying that he felt taken advantage of. The combination of these factors allowed the lid to come off some long suppressed feelings. Watching from outside of the order it was, and in many respects still is, difficult to know what went on. The order closed ranks, it seemed to me, and dark rumours began to spread. We have moved on from there, and although there are still some unresolved doubts, the order and the movement are largely getting on with their lives. However just at the time when we needed to be in contact with our distant Sangha members, we allowed our communication channels to lapse.

I believe that the lack of broadcast channels of communication within the FWBO is critical. One can easily find smaller networks - each centre will have a mailing list, and many publish a newsletter. In the absense of broader communication channels, which encompass the movement as a whole, this will inevitably lead to parochialism. When we do not have a clear sense of being part of a bigger team, we tend to over identify with our local situation - you can see this in action in any large organisation even when the teams in queston work under the same roof!

Bhante Sangharakshita's teaching which places Going for Refuge at the Heart of the Dharma, and of our movement is, I believe, his greatest gift to us and to the world. This insight tranforms what can often be a perfunctory formality into a powerful unifying technology, and a hermeuntic for understanding all Buddhist practice and custom. However I would say that in order to completely manifest this unity we have to be in actual connection with each other. I don't think we can feel ourselves to be a network of friends if we have no knowledge of how others in our community live. I believe that the FWBO/TBMSG is vulnerable to parochialism at present because it is diiffult to find out what our friends around the world are engaged in, or inspired by, or striving for. Very few of us know what is going on beyond the confines of our local Sangha. I know this because despite living amongst the second highest concentration of order members in one town, more than 100 in Cambridge, I am constantly surprised by the news stories I manage to dig up!

Order members have a small advantage due to their printed journal Shabda and the online forum Sanghajala. Shabda, much more so than Sanghajala, does provide a sense of being in touch with order members around the world. My opinion is that online forums don't really provide a sense of connection, and tend to be very fractious. But what about mitras and friends? Where do they turn for a connection to the wider movement? This lack of a sense of connection with the wider order is palpable in some order members of many years standing. Newer order members may not notice it so much because they have never experienced the sense of connection that, I believe, prevailed in the order until perhaps a decade ago.

I remember sitting in the ground of Ely cathedral with Nagabodhi in May 2004, talking about my ordination request, and about communication in the movement. How could we as a movement feel united without a strong and broad network of communication channels? We concluded that what the movement needed was a newsletter. I had been creating websites for several years, and recently started "blogging" I thought I knew what I could do about it and fwbo.blogspot.com was the result.

I hope you enjoy this revised and expanded FWBO News website.