Death and Taxes

Today I met the founder of ‘Death and Taxes’- who kindly met me to give me advice on setting up an accountancy business. Psyche Coderre is a goth, and set up her business after finishing her AAT qualification. I wanted to meet her because I thought there might be paralells between what I’m aspiring to do. 50% of her business comes from people in the goth scene- so she is able to work with people she can relate to and avoid having to dress a certain way, or be a certain way, which might not be the case in the corporate world- especially when you have purple hair.. Another advantage of setting up a business within a ‘scene’ or movement you can relate to is that there is a ready made network- which is surely a great advantage in business- Psyche has definitely found this to be the case.

I think there is so much scope in Triratna for business networking- pooling our resources, expertise, contacts etc- in Accountancy but also other industries we already have a foot in such as IT, design, websites etc.

5 Ideas for the London Buddhist Centre

Sukhavati

1. Open the Gates
When I first came along to the LBC, I couldn’t work out how to get in! Maybe this says more about me than anything else but I do think the LBC should be as accessible, easy and welcoming to walk in as possible. It does feel a bit like ‘fortress LBC’ at times.  Sometimes the door is propped opening when there is a class on, but I think the large gates should be open whenever the centre is not closed. Perhaps there is an issue of security, but not a big enough one to put an obstacle in front of anyone coming into contact with the Dharma. Ratnagosha suggested to me the gates could be replaced with something glass so you could see into the centre.

2.Open on Sundays
The LBC is now open on Saturdays, which I believe has been successful, so I believe it should be open on Sundays too. After all, none of us are going to church on Sundays; it’s not like we don’t have to work because of what the Bible says. This makes sense as people are generally working Monday to Friday so have more time at the weekends. There could be mediation classes throughout the day- for regulars and beginners. Perhaps the only obstacle to this is having enough teachers, which brings us on to…

3. Sunday Mentoring Program

Sunday could be a focus for the new mentoring program that is about to happen- an intensification of the existing program whereby a new generation of teachers will be taught and given the chance to teach more meditation, give talks etc- basically get an apprenticeship in Dharma Teaching. It doesn’t really matter if there is just one person at the class- I sometimes practice by teaching teddy bears- just practising, saying the words and being up there, is invaluable. The more chances there are to teach regularly, and receive feedback from experienced teachers,  the better people will get, creating hoardes of great teachers, which will put us in a great position to…

4. Do More Outreach Around London

London is a big place full of all sorts of people- it is a massive opportunity for spreading the Dharma. The NKT are everywhere- they are arguably a bit formulaic- we can replicate their omniscience in London while providing better teachers.We could have Pop Up Buddhist Centres- they don’t necessarily have to be maintained. It would be good to get the other London Centres involved in this. Doing this could triple the amount of people involved in the LBC in a year.

5.Put a TBRL in the Breathing Space Reception

As I understand it the Breathing Space reception is not used much in the daytime. If you have a space on a main road which you own your halfway to having a business. It could be used as a treatment space or used as a Arts space which people use to teach writing, crafts, poetry, animation you name it. The LBC could run a ‘Dragons Den’ style program where they invite people to put forward business ideas for the space.

Calling All Buddhist Book-Keepers

One way we could create new TBRLs, is by growing them out of the movement using existing skills and things people are already doing. Accountancy and Book-keeping would be an obvious choice for this- there are several people already doing book-keeping for the movement- for centres, busineeses for themselves etc. and there are also fully trained and exerienced accountants.Buddhist Book-Keepers?

If there is sufficient desire to do so, these people can join together and create a Book-keeping/ Accountancy Business. If they so desired, people in the movement who already use book-keepers could consider switching to this new TBRL, which would give it a good start, before it looks for business elsewhere.

Accountancy is a very marketable skill needed wherever money is involved, so unlike previous TBRLs like cafes, health food shops, there will be more scope for people to learn a trade which will be an asset to them when they leave.

This model could be applied to other professions- such as IT, Website Design, Graphic Design (I understand Dhammarati held a workshop for Graphic Artists in the movement recently) and any other skill people are engaged in.

It seems to me this is something that could quite easily be done- it just needs someone to say “Hey, let’s do it!”

Visiting Windhorse

Yesterday I visited Windhorse Evolutions Warehouse and was kindly showed round by Ratnaghosha, the Director of Windhorse Wholesale and a Trustee of the Windhorse Trust.

It was a thrill to be there- Windhorse is by far the movements biggest TBRL with a turnover of £10,000,000 per year. It really is a bastion of TBRL, a business which runs according to Buddhist values and exists in the tough business world, generating profits which are given to Buddhist charities and activities.

Ratnagosha next to Stupa in Warehouse

I was shown the offices and was surprised at how many people are employed there. There is also a yoga room, shrine room, chef for mealtimes, music room with various instruments (just in case you fancy a jam session in your break) and even a gym. It seemed like a very good place to work. I find out that there is two Mexicans working there, who came through the Mexico City Buddhist Centre, which is apparently as busy as the LBC!

I was then taken in a ‘New View’ letting agencies car to see the Cambridge Centre, which receives a lot of dana from Windhorse, and Ratnaghosha’s community- which was custom built and owned by Windhorse.

I talked to Ratnaghosha about my ideas and my project. He was encouraging and thought the people at Windhorse might be able to provide support in advising people on their TBRL business plans. He was particularly interested in my idea to have a Buddhist Book-Keeping Business, grown out of the existing Accountancy experience in the movement.

I hope that Windhorse continues to thrive and that more TBRLs of it’s size  will come about. Being there, seeing the Windhorse warehouse amongst other companies warehouses, you get a sense of the movement integrating itself into the economic and industrial realities of our society without compromising its values.

Ratnaghosha’s Blog, which contains a lot of good insights into TBRL amongst other things can be found here

Expanding the Arts and our Imaginations

A big part of Bhantes teaching is that by experiencing and engaging in the arts we can refine and develop our imagination- an indispensible faculty in the spiritual life. Bhantes talks and writing where he takes a piece if art and draws out its meaning and Dharmic significance (such as Journey to Il Convento, St. Jerome Revisited) are among my favourites.

In the LBC Mandala there is lot’s of specifically artistic activities and a lot of imaginative people- There is Poetry East- Maitreyabandhu very succesful Poetry evenings, The Arts Centre which facilitates Buddhist Artists and arts in the wider community to some extent, Arts Retreats, Artists, Opera Screenings & Film screenings, and the imagination is inherent in the teaching of meditation – particularly the Metta Bhavana and Ritual.

I would like to see the LBC and movement in general being more ambitious in the Arts, individually and colectively, and expand into areas such as fiction, film-making and animation- areas which are very prominent artforms these days and of personal interest to me- but their development in the movement seems to be lacking somewhat. Doing this would help communicate the Dharma to a contemporary world.

Maybe the issue here is one of confidence- but I’ve no doubt that there are people in the movement who could produce a great piece of art- after all as Buddhists we’re presumably saying we belive we can achieve enlightement, the greatest feat a person can aspire to- surely a decent novel, or a great film, is not too tall an order. And remember- we’re sowing the seeds for future generations, creating a culture, as Buddhism finds new forms of expression in the West.

Fiction
As far as I’m aware, of all the hundreds of books it has published, Windhorse has never published a book of Buddhist Fiction. Some poetry, but no fiction. This occured to me recently as being quite an omission. By Buddhist fiction I don’t necasarily mean fiction specifically about Budhist or Buddhism, but rather fiction written by Buddhists Going for Refuge which will naturally express the values ideas and and spirit of Buddhism in a way that non-fiction can’t.

I did a degree in film-making and animation for which I used to try and come up with stories so I quite naturally do this- ideas sometimes come out of me quite in fragments. I have three stories that have been knocking around in my head for sometime, gathering form overtime like a snowball rolling down a hill. When I begin to put them together sometimes parts of Buddhism begin to stnthesize, and my understanding goes a little further. They also seem to have a kind of theraputic function, putting my life and struggles into a larger framework.

Perhaps Windhorse should put out a call for fiction in the movement- and see what comes back. As an extension of Maitreyabandhus Poetry East, there could be ficyion writing workshops- this ties in to an idea I had about using the Breathing Space Reception as a craft space, rather like the Create PLace on Old Ford Road (here) (I will explore this more in a future post)

Film and Animation

Films occupy an important place in our hearts and minds. We have a lot of our energy tied up in films-I notice in study groups and meetings in the movement generally how the energy often picks up when people start talking about movies.

Films have certainly been important to me; Star Wars is what I want life to be like; the first time I remeber hearing about Buddhism was when I heard Yoda from Star Wars described as a ‘Zen Buddhist’, which got me very interested. Lawrence of Arabia I also very much relate in terms of my own spiritual life, and the TV show West Wing I see as a model for how working at a Buddhist Centre should be.

I really like Suryprabhas documentaries, (here) and I know that there has been some other good documentaries done. I would like to make a documentary, (featuring animation or drawings perhaps) about Why People become Buddhists, the point people go Through the Looking Glass, so to speak. But again, I would like to see more fictional works done.

It would be great to see a film-making culture come out of the LBC- I think this would create a lot of interest- however germinal it may be. Films could be produced for the website, there could be an LBC 48 hour film challege. Films don’t have to be too complicated, there is a famous science fiction film called La Jetee which consists mainly of still photgraphs (here). Could there be a film-making retreat?

Animation has long been an interest of mine as I did some for my Degree and it seems to me it is a excellent vehicle for Buddhism. I think we could do something like they’ve done at Headspace (here)- but a lot better- from what I can tell from the website, they are simply trying to get people to meditate for ten minutes a day, so there lives are a bit smoother but basically unchanged. The Triratna movement is trying to change self and world and offering a different way of life- much more radical, exciting and arguably, dangerous. How then can we usethe power of moving images, sound and story to express and evolve this exciting myth we are living together- the creative possibilities are boundless.

I like the feel of this animation (here)

A Window into a Spiritual Community

Here’s my ideas for the LBC website. I know a new LBC website is currently in the works, and I don’t know what is planned for it, and perhaps it’s too late to influence it, but here are my suggestions:

It’s hard to overestimate the  importance of having a good website, and the opportunities created by having a great one.  People practically live on the internet these days, for many it will be the first point of contact. I think the LBC website should be a window into a spiritual community- it should feel alive and current, plugged in to a wider network- because that”s what the LBC is- it’s not a nightclass centre where courses and classes are held.   Beginners classes will probably need to have a prominent place on the site quite rightly, but it shouldn’t be too hard to scratch beneath the surface of the ‘LBC‘ and find ‘Sukhavati‘.

Blog on Current Affairs

On the website I think there should be a blog featuring a Buddhist perspective on contemporary events in current affairs, politics, the news etc. I think if Buddhism is to be taken seriously as a force in our society, which I assume is what we all want, it needs to be seen to offer new ways of dealing with the problems that face the world. I think this would be an engaging way of communicating the Dharma. The posts on the Blog should be by Order memebers who have a talent for this type of thing, and to my mind should not allow for anyone to make comments underneath- unless they are vetted first- as often people put very stupid or unkind things on them. Vishvapani, with his ‘Thought for the Day’ is already doing this on radio 4- perhaps he could be invited to post on this Blog, as well as other senior order members in the movement.

History

I think it would be great to have an account of the history of the LBC Mandala, particulary focusing on the building project and all that came out of

LBC Before Building Project

that as well it’s broader context in the Triratna movement and in relation to Bhante. I these could make some very stimulating pages- with photos and accounts from people like Subhuti and Atula. I think it should also include a link to Bhantes inaugural talk “Authority and the Individual in the New Society” (here) which I think is still very relevant today. Doing this would again show how the LBC is more than a typical organisation.

FAQs & Ask a Buddhist 

FAQs would be a good feature to have- it can answer questions such as: “Is Meditation about making your mind go blank?“,  “Was the Buddha Fat?”, “Is the Buddha a God”  and all those other questions the answers to which can clear up common misconceptions, and again, is a snappy accessible way of teaching the Dharma.

There could also be a “Ask a Buddhist” section where people send in their questions on life, problems, meditation,  Buddhism etc. and they are answered by a suitable Order Member. I met a Zen Abbot from a Monastery in Boston, Massachusets when I was in Italy. He gave me a link to his page “Dear Abbott” (here)  (in America there is a famous agaony aunt page called Dear Abbey) which is worth a look at to show you what I mean.

Images & Words

The argument that the movement tends to emphasize the calmness, retreating from the world, peacefulness at the expense of the dynamism, transformation and radicalism of the Dharma is probably quite familiar to people in the movement. Vajragupta gave a good talk (here) which included him reporting back from some research he’s done looking at the movements websites which backed this up- most of the images and words used were about calmness, peacefulness etc.  The more peaceful images should be balanced out with images of dynamism, of transformation. I think more use of the Bodhisattva image would help in this area, as it would subtly communicate the more proactive aspect of Buddhism, as opposed to the more ‘static’ Buddha image that we usually see. (I will give a fuller account of how I think the Bodhisattva Ideal/ Image can address the imbalance in the image of Buddhism has in a future post).

Alive and Current

As I said earlier, I think the website should feel alive and current- this should not only be reflected in the content, but also in the look of the site. A main image that changes would be a good thing to have.  I think a modular website would be better as opposed to the list style.

As much embedded video and audio clips as possible would also be welcome. Using animation and films would be a very exciting direction to go in- RSA do some interesting animation that condense long and complicated talks into animations (here) for example. Headspace, who teach meditation have also done some good animation about meditation (here) Film-making and animation is a topic I will go into in a later post, which will talk about how having a film-making / animation community around the LBC, however germinal,  could create a lot of interest. The results from this could showcased on the website. Animation is a particular interest of mine and I think this particular artform  has great potential for communicating the Dharma.