I'd like to say a little about the vision that we hold here in the Amida sangha. When one looks around the Buddhist world one sees a number of organisations that have carved out a particular niche. Some run retreats of a particular kind. Some have created a particular kind of centre and aim to have as many of them around the world as possible. Some offer a particular service and want to replicate that service to as many examples of the client group as they can identify. In other words, there are many examples of groups that have found a workable formula. Thet then look for people to apply the formula to. In worldly terms this can be a successful approach. Does it, however, have anything to do with spiritual awakening?
The Amida sangha is not like that. We do not aim to replicate a formulaic procedure. We do not even aspire to evolve one. Our understanding of awakening is a bit different. The awake person knows that they do not know what comes next. The person who thinks they know is dreaming.
We hope, rather, to be always specific, always distinctive, always unique to the particular set of conditions that we encounter. This is because the only dogmas in this approach are the bombu, the Tathagata and the nembutsu – nothing else.
This does not mean that we do not know what we are doing; it means that we are alive to what we are doing and that what we are doing is itself alive and responsive. At the core of what we are doing, in fact, lies a method of training people to have faith in such an alive approach; people who can offer leadership, who can think creatively, who value each particular person and each particular situation, and who so trusting can act as a team.
They can act as a team not just in delivering a preplanned solution to a single situation, but in being sensitively responsive to a wide range of situations. This is the Buddhist ideal. It is the ideal of the bodhisattva who has no particular ground to stand on but who is willing to go anywhere amongst all manner of people for the benefit of all manner of beings. As a spiritual centre, we are cultivating such people.
The Amida sangha has been growing slowly but surely. As we have more people we do more. We do not make new replicas of things we have done before, we do new things that respond appropriately to new situations. Sometimes we start something on our own. Sometimes we establish a new organisation in order to do something, as with the Maitri Project. Sometimes we act in partnership with another group, as we did when we started our India project. Sometimes we support another agency – as, at the moment, we support the Amitayus Wellbeing Centre. Sometimes our support goes to an organisation, but it is more common for it to go to individual people, supporting them to do something worthwhile. Sometimes we send one or more of our number to assist within another organisation or institution. Sometimes we just arrive in a situation and find out what is possible.
All this means that we are a sangha. We are not really focussed upon being an organisation. Sometimes organisation is what is needed to do a job, but it is a means not an end and it is important to guard against it becoming an end.
We are focussed upon the spiritual training of persons who are within or related to our core team and with friendship and love toward persons who are outside of that circle. Some of the latter may be people who have particular needs, but we are not primarily a social work agency. Our approach is friendship. If our friends have needs we will try to help them, but it is always a two way street. Nobody is only needy – everybody also has something to offer. The Amida sangha supported Amrita Dhammika and she used that support to develop the Tithandizane Project in Africa. Tithandizane means “we help each other”. Amrita's way of helping others was to help them to find ways to help yet other people. That is true Buddhist spirit.
This also means that our primary concern is with a certain quality of relating; a quality that is full of faith in the power of love. Quality matters more than quantity. Sometimes one is relating to one person, sometimes to hundreds. This one person might be Maitreya. Certainly one should aim to give them the kind of attention that incorporates that possibility. It is good to spread the Dharma and to make it available to many many people, but one should not become overly concerned about numbers. One does not know in what way things are going to grow or spread. One has more control over what one is spreading. A little faith and love can go a long way.
Amida sangha is building a wholesome community. In this community there is individual responsibility as well as deep mutual concern. Here people learn to take responsibility for their particular areas of concern at the same time as learning to listen deeply to one another. This is a profound training. There is nothing superficial or flaky there.
Sometimes people mistakenly think that relying upon Other Power means that one should become passive and do nothing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Relying upon Other Power gives one the confidence to act and do more. While we rely upon self-power we are much more likely to dither or retire. Trusting in Other Power means having a sense that all will be well. Go forward in faith. Faith, as one of our Order members memorably once said, “turns the traffic lights from amber to green”.
This is a very important point. If one has faith one does not hesitate so long. One does not need a formula or a guarantee. One does not confine oneself to what has worked in the past. One is willing to do what is new and creative. One is not overly caught in regulation. Others with less faith can come along and regulate later. Faith makes one a pioneer; a trailblazer.
The genius of the Amida approach lies in its potential to generate a community of trailblazers; a team; a matrix of teams even. Commonly things fall between extremes. One extreme is the person of initiative who cannot co-operate with anybody else. The other extreme is the person who can do as told but not hold authority. Here people learn to do both and are trained in reaching the point where these two are perfectly balanced, so that we can be creative and still be a team. Not only can we be one team, we can make many teams that form and reform according to the needs of the situation.
This means that the Amida approach is intelligent and alive. We do not know exactly what we might undertake next. We do not know yet exactly what our existing projects may be doing next year. We do know that they will be alive, vibrant, interesting and meaningful. We do know that we shall all be learning from them and growing as persons and, in particular, as persons of spirit. No two Amida groups are the same. If you learn the ways of a spiritual community and you go from one group or centre to another you will usually know the form. However, this is less true in Amida. Some things you will recognise, but the form of each group also owes much to local conditions. In all groups you are likely to find the nembutsu, bombu people and the presence of the Tathagata. How that works out in practical terms, however, is a function of local chemistry.
What then is our mission? In a sense, it is to not have a mission, but rather to be open to possibilities. Or, our mission is to be loving and stay alive, to proceed in faith and encounter every situation with freshly awakened eyes. Our mission as Buddhists is to wake up again and again so the the world is ever fresh and the spirit of love, compassion, joy and equanimity lives.