The Birmingham Buddhist Centre is part of the Triratna Buddhist Community. Founded in 1967, by Sangharakshita. We aim to build on and continue his vision for communicating the Buddha’s teachings.
We have been sharing the teachings of Buddhism in Birmingham for over 35 years. 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 and disability.
The Centre itself is home to community of people who wish to live according to the principles of love, care, kindness, generosity, honesty and mindfulness. This vision includes our wish to share our beautiful and serene space with others who are interested in wellbeing thus therapy, music, bodywork and counselling also happen in the space.
The community is made up of practitioners at different levels of commitment to the Buddhist path; Order Members, Mitras, people who attend regularly, and people who just drop in to our classes from time to time.
For many people Sangharakshita has brought the riches of the Dharma to life. 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 lived for many years in Kalimpong where he encountered and studied with many leading teachers. 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
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, part of the Urgyen Sangharakshita Trust.
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. 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 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. And there is more recently a book written by Nagabodhi, called Sangharakshita: The Boy, The Monk, The Man, which gives a concise account of Sangharakshita’s life and the creation and development of Triratna. It may also help to talk to Order members at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre to hear their perspective on Triratna’s history.