The Triratna Buddhist Community is an international network dedicated to communicating Buddhist insights in a way that fits our modern world. Triratna (‘three jewels’) refers to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the central values in Buddhism. Buddha is the ideal of enlightenment, Dharma the path that leads to it, and Sangha the community of all companions on that path.
Originally called the FWBO (Friends of the Western Buddhist Order), it was founded in London in 1968 by Sangharakshita. He was first a Theravada monk in India, but during the 20 years that he lived on the border between Tibet and India, he also received instruction and initiations into Tibetan Buddhism from leading lamas who were fleeing the Chinese occupiers. When he returned to England in the 1960s, he found that the way Westerners practiced Buddhism was very limited. His response was to found a new Buddhist movement.
Sangharakshita thought that for Buddhism to take root in a completely different culture meant going back to the essence of the Dharma. What are the principles underlying all forms of Buddhism, and how can they best be applied? Triratna is therefore based on the principle of ‘critical ecumenism’: it does not belong to a particular traditional school, but draws inspiration from the entire stream of Buddhism.
Now that Buddhism has come to the West, Western Buddhists are tasked with creating new and living Buddhist traditions for the modern world. Triratna pioneered the creation of new structures that enable people to live as authentic Buddhists in the 21st century. They started businesses run by teams of Buddhists. They set up residential communities and social projects such as the Karuna Trust, and much more. Over the last 50 years the Triratna movement has grown into one of the largest Buddhist movements the UK. It is also growing steadily in the Netherlands and other European countries, just like in countries on other continents, such as India and Mexico.
One way to describe Triratna is by its six emphases:
- The already mentioned principle of ecumenical Buddhism. This means that Triratna attempts to transcend the differences between the various Buddhist schools and directions. The underlying unity of Buddhism is a guiding idea in Triratna.
- The central importance of ‘going for refuge’. This means that commitment to spiritual transformation is primary, and lifestyle is secondary. One can lead a life as a monk/nun or be in the middle of a social life, with a job and family. How someone shapes their connection with the path varies from person to person.
- Unity. The order and movement are open to everyone, regardless of origin, nationality, gender or sexual preference.
- The importance of friendship. Friendship is essential in the spiritual life because it helps to overcome our tendency towards self-centeredness, it is a support on our journey, it is cement for the Sangha, and above because one learns from others.
- The importance of work. A great part of the spiritual life is to find balance between the active and meditative sides of it. There may be a tendency to prefer calmness, serenity and receptivity. While this is indeed very important, it must be balanced by energy, activity and commitment.
- The importance of art. Western culture has a rich artistic tradition. These often express deep spiritual values, and because it is often culturally closer to us than Eastern art, it can be a valuable starting point into a more spiritual lifestyle. Moreover, for those who live in cities (like most of us) it can be a way to connect with the sense of beauty that comes so naturally in a more natural environment.