Skip to content
Home » Next Steps on the Buddhist Path

Next Steps on the Buddhist Path

Chair’s homily – March 2024

This month we say goodbye to Jamie and Nick. These two members of our Sangha are leaving us for Padmaloka and then Spain to complete their training for Ordination and then start their training as new Order Members. Both have spent years getting ready for this important time. I don’t suppose when they first stepped foot in the Ipswich Buddhist Centre they thought for a moment that they would now be taking this big step. Often when we walk into the Buddhist Centre we don’t really know what we are looking for, we just know that we are looking for something. Perhaps we have had an insight experience that we don’t understand or can barely acknowledge. Maybe we just want to overcome some form of suffering that life seems to have dealt us and we want rid of it. Whatever it was that made us venture into the unknown, into the Buddhist Centre, we see a whole new world of possibilities open up before us.

It has taken many years for Jamie and Nick to fully explore their spiritual paths and find what they started to seek all those years ago. I know the road has not been easy for either of them and I am sure that on many occasions they have felt like doing something else; but there is nothing else that gives such personal satisfaction, deep understanding of who we are, and our true purpose in life. By bringing the possibility of leading a truly Buddhist way of life in our modern western context, Triratna is unique. Remarkably, the founder of our Order, Urgyen Sangharakshita was able to synthesise and translate a 2,500 year old spiritual tradition into a new tradition, a new form of Buddhism adapted to the way we live in this modern world.

However, preparing for Ordination is not without difficulties. One of the frequent difficulties that comes up when moving forward on the Buddhist path, and especially as you approach ordination, is doubt. Perhaps we doubt ourselves, our own abilities or worthiness for Ordination. Can the Buddhist path solve our perceived difficulties? Can we even achieve our spiritual goal? There will be doubts too about those who are trying to help us, our friends including Sangha friends, and our teachers. We may question their motives, their abilities, or their spiritual depth and understanding. Sometimes these doubts can be devastating and stop us in our tracks. As the spiritual life comes to mean so much to us, these doubts can leave us temporarily lost, not knowing how to move forward. Eventually we see that this continuous dropping into doubt is actually the way we experience progress on the Buddhist path. Doubt is a measure of how far we have come on our spiritual journey, how deep we have gone and how we are destabilising our sense of who we are. It is a letting go of our past sense of who we are. In Triratna, this is understood as a movement in the two great stages within our System of Dharma Life. This is the sometimes painful process of Spiritual Death and eventually of Spiritual Rebirth.

Even the Buddha, at his Enlightenment, had to face his deepest doubts. We know this from the Suttas, and his mythical conversations with Mara (e.g. Marasamyutta Sutta, SN I 103 chap 4). Those of us with a Christian background can fall into the trap of equating Mara with the Christian Devil. But we are better off seeing Mara as the guardian of our own repository of doubts. So Mara is the revealer of doubts, of our doubts. And those doubts form Mara’s hordes that seem to attack us. But that is just an ego centred view, as we try to hide from the situation. We have to face up to the reality of our own life, and sometimes that can be very painful. The Buddha overcame this onslaught of doubt by going deeper into his psyche, deeper into the mundane world of his life, deeper into the earthiness of his past. We see his confidence arising in the form of the Earth Goddess, who governs the base or earthy side of us, the dirty side, the muddy side. The Buddha touched the earth, signifying that he had plumbed the depths and brought them all to the surface, into consciousness. He went back and looked through his past, his desires, his ethical problems. Even into his previous existences, into the karma-vipaka that formed his current existence. He had to be sure he had sorted it all out, accepted and come to terms with his past actions, in Triratna this is known as becoming fully integrated. And even more, he had completed all of the five levels of the system of Dharma life. (That is: Integration, Positive Emotion, Spiritual Death, Spiritual Rebirth, and Spontaneous Compassionate Action).

The Buddha overcame these doubts, by sorting his life, but also by returning to his earliest sources of inspiration. He recalled an episode from his early life when he sat under the shade of a Rose Apple tree and watched his father conduct a ploughing ceremony. The young ‘Buddha-to-be’ Guatama entered a tranquil meditative state and had a sense of deep awareness of all that was going on around him, an insight into life. In a similar way we to can overcome our doubts by realising why we have started on the Buddhist path and revisiting and reconnecting with our earliest experiences that, back then revealed to us something of the nature of reality and the deeper purpose to our lives.

Getting back to Jamie, Nick and not forgetting Andy later in the year. As part of the Ordination ceremony, they will all be given new names. These will be Buddhist names marking the enormous changes that Ordination will have on them. The names may have some personal significance but its true significance is that it marks a level of individual integration. With this deeper integration comes the birth of a new life, a new self that is directed towards achieving Buddhist goals. Those goals are summarised in the four Ordination vows that are taken by Order Members during their Ordination ceremony. 

These vows are: 

With loyalty to my teachers, I accept this ordination

In harmony with friends and brethren, I accept this ordination

For the attainment of Enlightenment, I accept this ordination

For the benefit of all beings, I accept this ordination 

A brief overview of these vows.

The teachers are Sangharakshita, our Preceptors and the Order Members that have helped and guided us on our journey. The Friends are the local Sangha in which we have practised, but also the wider Triratna Sangha spread worldwide. And the Brethren are all Order Members. So we try our best to keep in harmony with all these people, and also work to promote harmony between all of this very large community of friends.

This may be obvious, but this third vow is the highest goal of all Buddhists, a goal that we continue to work towards, even more so after Ordination. Within the Triratna Community, which gives special emphasis on Going For Refuge to the three Jewels. The witnessed level at Ordination is from Effective Going For Refuge to Real Going For Refuge and even further is to Absolute Going For Refuge equates to Enlightenment. The final vow, we will help all beings to attain Enlightenment, as this is the greatest benefit we can bestow. This vow is aligning us with the Bodhisattva Ideal. Going beyond our own selfish ego-centred behaviour and put others needs and aspirations before our own. This final vow is the reason that all Order Members give their time and efforts to teach the Dharma and run and support classes and events at the Ipswich Buddhist Centre.

The date for Jamie and Nicks celebrations is Wednesday evening on 20th March. This is normally Mitra night but on this occasion all are welcome to attend. So do come and give our potential new Order Members a great send off and leave them in no doubt that we wish them well.

I will see you there.


Leave a Reply