The Order Sangha
The 2007 Order Convention photograph on the mantlepiece at Trevince House | Image © Satyadarshin 2013
The Triratna Buddhist Order is a spiritual community of men and women who have pledged themselves to following the Buddhist path to Enlightenment. Order members have made that commitment — traditionally known as going for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha — the central point of their lives. In particular, they have chosen to make the TBO the context in which they are trying to live ever more deeply imbued by Wisdom and Compassion.
The TBO aims to be a free association of individuals working towards a common goal. It is founded on the principle that spiritual community can be created only by free will and mutual aspiration, never by coercion. Therefore there are no rules in the Order, and all decisions made by bodies within the Order are made by consensus.
Every Order member undertakes to practise a traditional set of 10 ethical precepts. These point to basic principles applied to all actions of body, speech and mind. Men and women Order members take the same precepts, and practise on an equal basis.
The TBO is a radical alternative to most forms of Buddhism in Asia, where practitioners are either monastic or lay. The Order is open to any man or woman who is sincerely and effectively committed to the Buddhist path. Order members try to lead a wholehearted Buddhist life, bring a dharmic perspective to all aspects of their life. They are not monks or nuns. What matters is not the lifestyle that Order members adopt but the spiritual commitment they have made: commitment is primary, lifestyle is secondary.
What Happens in the Triratna Buddhist Order?
Order members take seriously the task of deepening spiritual fellowship, so there are many opportunities for them to spend time together and form supportive friendships. Order members get together each week in small local groupings called chapters. These are spiritual workshops, where people share their insights and difficulties and try to help one another in their Dharma practice. On the first weekend of every month the Order members in each region meet up for a weekend of collective Dharma practice. And every two years there is a three-week Convention of all Order members from around the world.
Some Order members live together, others may work together. Most Order members have ordinary jobs, expressing their values in a range of professions and vocations. A minority work full-time in Buddhist Right Livelihood businesses, or are supported to work at their local Trirtana centre. In whatever ways they try to share their spiritual lives, and to co-operate in the various means through which the Order takes what it has to offer into the world. All of its structures aim to facilitate communication, and create a basis of kindness and clarity on which the Order can meet and work.
Joining the Order
Ordination is a lifelong commitment, and a very serious step, so it usually takes a number of years to become ready for ordination. Anyone can ask and then participate in the structures and retreats that make up the ordination training course. A range of retreats are held around the world by Order members experienced in ordination training.
As the senior Order members responsible for ordinations, and Order members at their local Triratna centre, get to know the person who has asked, they will discuss their readiness for ordination. Nobody is ever refused ordination, but people take varying amounts of time to prepare themselves. Ordination is a commitment that requires a fair degree of self-knowledge as well as considerable experience of the Buddhist path, of the Triratna Buddhist Community, and of effective friendships with Order members. Ordinations are performed by a senior Order member known as a Preceptor, usually in the context of a special ordination retreat.