In the last few weeks I have been teaching Portugal and several FWBO centres in the UK, notably the North London Buddhist centre, where I am President. The contrast was very striking between activities in Portugal and the rest.
Sagarapriya has been teaching for two years and has established a flourishing group that operates out of the Portugese Buddhist Union in Lisbon. He is well-respected as part of the city's small Buddhist scene, and has strong links with Tibetan Buddhists (he translates for visiting lamas) and Theravadins as well. When I visited he was in the process of buying a large building close to central Lisbon to be a Buddhist and natural health centre. However, Sagarapriya doesn't label his activities 'FWBO' and he is happy to invite teachers from various traditions to teach his group. Also, he sometimes refers to Sangharakshita's teachings, but he doesn't set out to teach them himself. He wants to address Buddhism in a more generic way, and he is not intending to designate his new building an FWBO Centre.
This is interesting, and it raises lots of questions. What does it mean for an Order member to teach Buddhism but for this not to be part of the FWBO. What is the FWBO? Is it an organisation, to which people affiliate, or is it a wider network that includes all 'altruistic and creative activities of Order members?' If Sagarapriya is not teaching FWBO Buddhism, what kind of Buddhism is he teaching? The same question applies to the FWBO as a whole, but the usual answer in that case refers back to Sangharakshita. The FWBO rests on his authority and qualifications to teach; can Sagarapriya say the same thing?
To be fair to Sagarapriya, he is a very straightforward person, not proud and not on an ego trip, just wanting to make the Dharma available to people. I like working with him and am happy to support his group. I think that in the FWBO we are suffering the consequences of an over-emphasis on affiliation, and Sagarapriya is exploring another model of engagement with the Dharma. The questions I posed will arise more acutely when the people in his group become experienced practitioners. Where will he point them to develop their engagement with the Dharma? And what would happen if others in Portugal did want to have something more like a typical FWBO group?
Sagarapriya exemplifies the freedom that a Dharma teacher can have if they are on their own. He can do what he wants, how he wants, without having to negotiate with a group of others who share the running of a centre. How different things are in the UK where many of the FWBO situations I know are large and demanding, and have to negotiate between the demands of inclusion and plurality and those of clarity and purpose. I arrived straight back from Lisbon to an NLBC weekend which had somehow expanded from a planning weekend for the charity's Council, to include the whole sangha in a participatory process of co-creating the centre's future vision.
It wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on this process here, but a striking feature is that many of those keenest to be involved have opted not to involve themselves in the FWBO's established structures. That is, some experienced members of the sangha have dropped out of the ordination process and some don't want to become mitras. However, they do love their centre very much and rather than wishing to leave they want a greater say in how it is run. Clearly, this makes things rather complicated, raising the another question in regard to the same themes I noted in Portugal about what it means for a centre to be part of the FWBO. Who says?