Thursday, January 07, 2010

Finding A Name For the FWBO

I'm posting this now, following Bhante's announcement about the name change, out of historical interest.

Finding A Name For the FWBO

September 1995

I am writing this proposal for a review of the FWBO's name at Kulananda's suggestion and because my work has led me to feel that such a change is necessary. A name-change is costly, disruptive and potentially confusing to outsiders: one loses recognition. On the other hand, there is nothing like a re-launch to generate publicity and give a sense of renewal. In addition, if we conclude that we need a new name than we should find one as soon as possible. The longer we wait the more disruptive it will be. And finally, it seems to me that any name for the movement must have the imprimatur of Bhante. Who will have the courage or the authority to change the name he gave us when he is no longer here to approve? I see three reasons for wanting to change the name.

1. It sounds bad.

Any set of initials is cumbersome. FWBO is four letters, six syllables. To my ear they are not very euphonic and my experience suggests they are not very memorable.

At one time the FWBO was popularly referred to as 'the Friends'. No more. Now we use those ugly initials or the monolithic term 'the Movement'.

If we do use the full phrase 'the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order' it is not much better. It is quite a mouthful and it is not clear what it means. In what sense 'Friends' and so on. It simply does not sound like a serious body in itself - especially, Saramati tells us, in the US.

I find in my dealings with the press they tend not to remember the words, or they get them wrong, or at the very least they require explaining. I tend to say I am from the Western Buddhist Order.

2. It is not accurate.

- The 'Friends' makes it sound like a single entity, which it is not.

- It is not 'Western', either in practice or, indeed in principle. It is universal and traditional. 'Western' makes it sound - well - Western, as opposed to just Buddhist and finding its expression in a variety of cultures. I imagine there might be a certain amount of resistance to dispensing with 'Western' as it has served to define us in the Buddhist world and to ourselves. I wonder if it is such an issue now. We are Western; we have proved that Buddhism is not to be identified with Eastern culture. Perhaps the point has come when its use is counter-productive.

3. It sows the seeds of Disunity.

Being inaccurate, FWBO creates various problems. This seems to me the most compelling reason for a change, much more important than how it sounds.

(i) Nationally

FWBO is not, in fact, the name of the movement, it is just its name in the English-speaking world. Therefore, what we are concerned with is not so much changing the old name as finding a new one. We do not at present have one name, we have several: FWBO, TBMSG, and the various sets of initials we use in German, Spanish, French, Swedish, Finnish and so on. The names in other European languages are translations of FWBO but they contain no key words in common. As we become better known in Europe it will be increasingly confusing that we have a different name in each country

In India this variation of names seems to me to be quite serious. On my last trip people often said to me things like 'in the FWBO you do things like this, but in TBMSG we do things like this.' Even worse than the situation in Europe, TBMSG indicates an entirely different set of words, presumably because 'Western' is plainly inapplicable. In fact it gives the impression that we are defining ourselves as other than the Indians.

In due course activities will start in other Asian countries where neither the FWBO nor TBMSG will be appropriate and we will have to come up with an entirely new name each time. There will, of course be borderline cases - what will we be called in the Middle East? And what of the countries where Western will appeal to some, but to others will denote cultural imperialism or else, the dubious virtues of industrialisation.

Having a variety of names in different countries seems to me at best to weaken the sense of belonging to the same Order and movement, and at worst to set up the basis for future splits along national lines. This is already apparent in India, but as other non-English speaking countries gain greater identity in their own right, these lines of difference are liable to proliferate.

(ii) Centres

A parallel issue is emerging in London as a result of the proliferation of centres and the start of joint publicity.

Firstly, there is no explicit connection between the centres indicated by their names, and secondly no connection with the FWBO. People do not necessarily realise that there is a connection between the North London Buddhist Centre and the Covent Garden Meditation Centre, for example, or even between the LBC and the FWBO. Why should they? It is already an anomaly that the LBC is the London Buddhist Centre.

In any case, as the number of Buddhist Centres of all kinds also proliferates, I wonder if it is not confusing (maybe even a little unfair) for us to simply use the word 'Buddhist'. It begs the question: what kind of Buddhist?

What Name?

The potential for confusion and disunity strikes me as an overwhelming argument in favour of finding a new name, and it suggests what we most need from it. I would put these considerations in the following order of priority.

1. We need a common tag.

2. It needs to be accurate and informative

3. It needs to sound good.

The last of these we simply need to bear in mind in considering any actual suggestions. As for the first two:

1. We need to find a word which can be kept constant in every language. We can do this by looking outside vernacular languages to Pali or Sanskrit. We could then consider using a vernacular translation of that word. I understand that Pali tends to be associated exclusively with the Theravada, so this means we will be looking for something Sanskrit which is more of a Buddhist lingua franca.

There are clearly disadvantages in having a non-English name, but do these outweigh the disadvantages of having an English one? In the end, from a PR perspective I think it is better to have a memorable foreign name than an unmemorable English one. It doesn't seem too much of a problem for RIGPA or Shambhala and so on.

2. The word has to be something central. It needs to define what we are about to ourselves and to the world. There will not be many to chose from.

Finally we have to consider the name not just of the FWBO, but of the WBO.

What word?

Three years ago I discussed this subject with Subhuti and he told me that when he and Bhante had considered it they had thought along these very lines and both, independently come up with 'Triratna'. My suggestion then was 'Dharmachara' (if that turns out to be grammatical) ie. path of the Dharma.

I think I now incline to Triratna - the only real objection to using this name in particular seems to me to be aesthetic. But it grows on me.

What about the rest of the name? Here are my thoughts about how the name might pan out with Triratna as the key element. Any other Pali or Sanskrit word could pan out in a similar way.

It has to say what we are, so what are we? Well we are a Buddhist movement, so how about Triratna Buddhist Movement? More colloquially we could call ourselves (the) 'Triratna' viz.:

'In Rigpa you do it like that, in Triratna, we do it like this'.


Q: 'I am a Tibetan Buddhist, what kind are you?'

A: 'I am a Triratna Buddhist'

Or even:

'I am a follower of the Triratnayana.

But perhaps I am getting carried away.

We could of course use the initials (the) TBM.

A variation on this would be to use Three Jewels Buddhist Movement (the TJBM?); each country could use its own vernacular version if appropriate (something tells me the Japanese would have difficulties with Triratna).

What about the Order? How about Triratna Buddhist Order or, if we prefer, Triratna Mahasangha? We could, in fact have this as a single name and still refer to ourselves as Triratna Buddhist Order for functional purposes (ie, one is ordained into the Triratna Mahasangha, but we introduce ourselves at classes as a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, continue talking about the Order, Order members and so on. I don't imagine we would want to refer to the Order as 'the TM').

In India, the movement would be known - I guess - as Triratna Mahasangha Sahayak Gana: TMSG, which would at least minimise disruption.

Centres could then be called the Manchester Triratna Buddhist Centre and so on. Joint advertising could be for 'the London Triratna Buddhist Centres' and so on. This doesn't really solve the problem London Centres using points of the compass, but perhaps that is a separate issue.


There are two parts to this paper. Firstly an argument for changing the name, and secondly an proposal for how to do it. Even if you do not like my suggestion, I think we should still take very seriously the analysis of the need.

I think we should act at the earliest good opportunity, leaving some time for the idea to sink in. How about the 30th anniversary two years hence? In India the new name could coincide with the opening of the Nagarjuna Institute which should be around the same time. Lets not wait too long.