Taking stock of the progress of the Amida Shu sangha at the end of 2015 it is hard to find words sufficient to praise the achievement of Kaspalita and Satyavani and all those involved in the establishment of the Amida Mandala Temple in Malvern. This was itself the culmination of several years of dedication which began with them holding Pureland religious services in the tiny front room of their original accommodation in Malvern, doing walking recitation in a room hardly big enough to swing one’s arms, sometimes with one or two other visitors, sometimes alone. Over the years I have many times heard it said that presenting a blatantly religious approach to Buddhism could never work in England, that the Pureland message is particularly difficult to promote, and that in order to spread the word you have to go with the general secularising trend, yet here we have a temple run unashamedly as a Buddhist church in a quintessentially English provincial town flourishing and deeply appreciated by local people. Nobody who enters the front door with even a half open mind can help but be swept up in the spirit of love that pervades.
This is not to say that this is a group of super-human people. They make no bones of their bombu nature. I’m sure that there are days when they feel out of sorts. We know that there have been some disputes and some people have left. However, as somebody who has had much experience with communities over the years, I can say that there has actually been a good deal less trouble of this kind than could be considered to be par for the course, and the positives far, far outweigh the cost. There has to be room in any venture of this kind for enough space and flexibility to accommodate actual human nature and we should not be ashamed of that. The great genius of the Pureland approach is, in fact, the recognition of such human nature and the consequent avoidance of paralysing perfectionism on the one hand and hypocritical posing on the other. We are not a community that seeks to impose a taxing discipline, but rather one where experienced practitioners, complete new-comers and little children can all take part and enjoy the Dharma in their different ways..
So it was a great pleasure to stay at the temple for a week before and another week during the Bodhi Retreat. Since then I have heard from several participants what an inspiring event they found it to be and how they have gone away full of renewed spiritual energy. Now, however, of course, comes the test. Where is this energy to go now? What will emerge in local sanghas in different parts of the world, among those who attended and those who were not able to? A wave has been set in motion. Back in France we shall be developing La Ville au Roi (Eleusis). Our model will be quite different to that in Malvern because our situation is completely different. As a remote, rural retreat we shall not be catering to a local congregation. However, our own unique development can certainly be complementary to that in England and I expect a fair bit of traffic of persons coming and going between the two (and other) locations. Each place must develop in its own way, but the salience of the religious spirit, of common humanity in its relation to greater powers that bridge the relation to eternity, expressed through simple prayer, will be common ground.
I remember long ago my Zen teacher Kennett Roshi saying to me that i should try to get a group of practitioners together to do zazen and, years later, Achaan Viradhammo telling me to “get a sangha around me.” I had several tries and some successes but also failures. Groups started and fell apart again. I learnt. Too much leadership. Too little leadership. Too tightly defined. Not defined enough. Clashes of personality. Unbalanced people. There are many hazards. I know how difficult it can be. Thus, the evolution of Amida Shu as a spiritual communion that now has a robustness, depth, and sense of mutual love is a great satisfaction and I feel enormous gratitude to all my companions on this path, scattered around the world as we are and to the inspiring light of Amitabha Buddha which really does seem to penetrate through all obstacles.
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