The Birmingham Buddhist Centre is part of the Triratna Buddhist Community
The Triratna Buddhist Community is a worldwide movement, founded by Sangharakshita in 1967. Triratna is a Sanskrit word meaning Three Jewels. Traditionally there are three jewels at the heart of a Buddhist life: the Buddha as examplar, his insight into the way things are (the Dharma), and the Sangha, or spiritual community.
About Sangharakshita and Triratna
For many people Sangharakshita has brought the riches of the Dharma to life, synthesising the essential elements of what it means to be a committed, practising Buddhist, transforming both ourselves and the world around us.
He has been a translator between East and West, between the traditional world and the modern, between principles and practices, combining depth of experience and clear thinking. He has always particularly emphasised the decisive significance of commitment in the spiritual life, the paramount value of spiritual friendship and community and the need for contexts that support our practice, values, spiritual aspirations and ideals.
Sangharakshita has taught and written extensively, and he is now the author of over sixty books. Most of these are expositions of the Buddhist tradition but he has also published a large amount of poetry and several volumes of memoirs, as well as works on aspects of Western culture and the arts from a Buddhist perspective. In 2016, Windhorse Publications began publishing his Complete Works. During his long teaching life Sangharakshita also gave many talks which may be downloaded free from FreeBuddhistAudio. Some of his other work is available at www.sangharakshita.org .
Sangarakshita was born Dennis Lingwood in South London, 1925. He developed an early interest in the cultures and philosophies of the East and realised he was a Buddhist aged sixteen, after reading the Diamond Sutra. He became involved in London’s germinal Buddhist world in wartime Britain, and started to explore the faith through study and practice. Conscription in the Second World War took him to Sri Lanka, and after the war he stayed on in India, where for a while he lived as a wandering mendicant, and was later ordained as the Theravadin Buddhist monk Sangharakshita (‘protected by the spiritual community’).
Sangharakshita lived for many years in Kalimpong where he encountered and studied with many leading teachers, especially from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He also played a key part in the revival of Buddhism in India, through his work with the followers of Dr Ambedkar.
After twenty years in India, he returned to the UK to establish the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) in 1967 (then called Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayak Gana, or TBMSG, in India) and the Western Buddhist Order (WBO) in 1968.
Things grew rapidly throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. The Order now numbers over two thousand members worldwide, with a third of the Order in India. In 2010, the FWBO/WBO changed its name to Triratna – Three Jewels – in recognition of its internationality.
In the late 1990s Sangharakshita handed on his responsibilities to a College of Public Preceptors made up of some his most senior disciples. Their main job is to oversee the Triratna ordination process, but they also see their role as developing and communicating Sangharakshita’s presentation of the Dharma.
For 16 years Sangharakshita lived in Birmingham and we were able to host a number of his public talks. Then in 2013 he moved to the new retreat centre of Adhisthana in Herefordshire, where he continued to keep up contact contact with friends and disciples. He died in 2018 after a short illness and was buried at Adhisthana which now also hosts the Sangharakshita archive, Urgyen House.
At more than fifty years old, Triratna is still a new and developing Buddhist tradition. Reconsidering how Buddhist practice is lived, fully, in the modern world has not been without its difficulties.
Criticism and Controversy
A huge amount was achieved in a very short time. However, mistakes were made, especially in the early days. For example, there has been controversy surrounding the sexual activity of Sangharakshita, and things also went badly wrong at the Croydon Buddhist Centre in the 1980s.
Sangharakshita apologised for any hurt he has caused, and the College of Public Preceptors also issued a statement welcoming his apology. The issues involved continue to be widely debated within the Order. A number of Order Members who hold key roles in the Order and Community, the Adhisthana Kula, met regularly to help guide the debate. In August 2020 they summarised their work in a report Addressing Ethical Issues in Triratna. It gives a good overview of the issues. There is more detail available in the form of Frequently Asked Questions. And more about the story of the Croydon Buddhist Centre here.
We aspire to be open and transparent about our past and to learn from it. Upholding the ethical integrity of our community is a continual process, and an important part of the work of the Birmingham Buddhist Centre. You can also read our safeguarding policies and ethical guidelines here.
You can find out more about the history of Triratna by reading The Triratna Story (free full text pdf format), a book written by Vajragupta which goes behind the scenes of a growing new Buddhist movement. It may also help to talk to Order members at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre to hear their perspective on Triratna’s history.
Triratna in Birmingham
The Birmingham Buddhist Centre is committed to going for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. As part of the Triratna Buddhist Community we aim to build on and be part of the development of Sangharakshita’s vision for communicating the Buddha’s teachings. This is offered for the benefit of all.
We have been sharing the teachings of Buddhism and developing our community in Birmingham for nearly 35 years, moving to our current premises in 1998. Based in the UK’s second largest city, with all its diversity, we aspire to offer these teachings in an inclusive way to all who want to learn them, regardless of gender, means, sexuality, religion, class, age, physical difficulties or any other consideration.
For those who want to commit themselves to the Three Jewels, we have a clear path of training to help you develop and deepen your understanding, in the context of a lively community of friends helping each other take their practice deeper, sharing the joys and challenges of spiritual life. Together, we are actively engaged in working out how to put the Buddha’s teachings into practice in a rich, complex and diverse world.