Yesterday I returned from a long weekend in Poland with my colleagues in the European Buddhist Union. We are made up of representatives from the huge Buddhist Unions across Europe, from big Buddhist pan-European groups, and from much smaller organisations like mine.
We look smiley in the photo, and these smiles are genuine. There is a lot of warmth and respect between these people, some of whom have been meeting for many years.
There are also difficulties. The problem is that, despite having hundreds of years of Buddhist practice between us, we are all still human beings. Some of us on the verge of enlightenment, of course, but still… ; )
Some of the conflicts carry the weight of a complicated and painful history. Some of them are between individuals, and some between organisations. Some of the friction arises from different cultures having different sets of expectations or styles of communicating – I spoke to my German friend about how self-deprecating the English can be, and how this can seem disrespectful when we include others who don’t have this cultural style in our laughter. There are differences in how people like things to be organised (or not), what their personal priorities and agendas are, and what their groups need.
There is also the fact that, although we are all Buddhists, we have a huge range of different practices, theologies and histories. Sometimes when people speak about what they believe or do in their Buddhist practice, I don’t recognise it as what I do at all. Sometimes it’s easier to get on with people from different faiths as we can find common ground without feeling threatened. When a Buddhists says ‘this is what Buddhists think or do’ and I don’t agree, my hackles go up. Not this Buddhist, I am thinking. You’ve got it all wrong!
We all take time out of our busy schedules to attend these events and to carry out work on behalf of the EBU because we feel passionately about the Dharma, and we are passionate about its potential to change lives for the better across the world. This strength of feeling also adds heat to the conflicts. This stuff is important to us all. Taking all this into account, it feels like a miracle that we can negotiate these differences at all. How do we agree about anything, or get anything done?
We do get things done. We released a statement on the violence in Myanmar and elected a new Council. We discussed how we can meet the needs of all the different sorts of members in the time we have available, and we made a plan. We discussed how we could best deal with the times when our Buddhist teachers get things very wrong. We heard about the inspiring Common Buddhist Text project. We also laughed a lot, ate too much delicious vegan food (or was that just me?), and promenaded round a beautiful park in Warsaw.
I look again at the photo, and I see what’s above us all. This is what brings us all together. Shakyamuni Buddha, who taught two and a half thousand years ago. We all follow his teachings, regardless of whether we practice chanting or zazen, or how we make sense of the sutras. We all take refuge in the three jewels. We have all been infected by his spirit of wisdom and warm compassion, and we want to pass it on to others. Our lives have been changed by what he brought to the world, and by all those who came after him. The Buddha smiles down on us all. This is what we have in common.
Not everyone will agree, but I would like to extend this common ground out even further. I’d like to include all of us who have a relationship with something outside of ourselves, however we might speak about it, which inspires us to live good lives. To all the writers here at Patheos, with all our differences – and to you, dear reader, as we try to be kind to each other. When we next crash into someone as a result of our differences, let’s try and remember the Buddha’s indulgent, all-knowing, just-as-you-are smile.
Namo Amida Bu. Deep bow.