Working together for a better world...
I wrote this article for Running Tide back in January but it didnt get published and as Running Tide has only just come out, things had obviously moved on. I'm putting it up here because it seems like a pity to waste a good article - or even a mediocre one!
Going Back to Go Forward: The Birth of Tariki Trust
How often do you wish you could go back and start all over? The idea of a clean slate, a return to basics, ideally with the knowledge accumulated through a lifetime of mistakes, and a recovery of the energy which comes from innovation and a fresh start, can sometimes be very appealing, even if at other times we think ‘no way would I go through that again’. In many ways this fresh start is exactly what has happened for me.
Nearly sixteen years ago, in 1996, I was one of the founders of Amida Trust, building a new organisation around an ongoing psychotherapy programme, a meditation group, a retreat centre in France, and a collection of socially engaged projects which had grown out of the context of our Buddhist practice. My then husband, David, and I had for a while felt that our miscellaneous activities needed an umbrella body to pull them together and lift them from being simply our personal interests to being something which others could contribute to. Once founded, the Amida organisation took of a momentum which surprised us more than somewhat, gathering people and procedures, activities and identity as it rolled.
It was not always a smooth journey but it was a creative and exciting one. Within two years of our foundation we were welcoming the first residential members of the Amida community and taking the first rudimentary steps in what was to become the establishment of the Amida order. We cemented our Pureland credentials and set out on a journey of teaching and publication which gained us a reputation for ideas, participation, practicality and edginess. We became the red Buddhists; Buddhists with attitude.
But life changes, and suddenly I find myself setting the clock back. With the changes which have taken place in the past couple of years, I find myself facing another rather empty page and another fresh start. Now in 2012 I am once more engaged in building a new venture.
The foundations of this project are surprisingly similar. When I read the powers and objects of Amida Trust in order to write the Tariki deed, I realised that, in fact, what they were describing was an organisation much closer to what I was in process of setting up than the form which Amida Trust seemed to have become (though much of the early intent is still there but expressed in different ways). It is not surprising. That trust deed was written in 1996 and things have moved on. Amida Trust has grown and matured. It has developed an Order and spawned projects in India and elsewhere. It has achieved many good things and become established. Tariki on the other hand, despite inheriting many of its attributes, is still young and raw.
At Tariki we start with a Buddhist psychotherapy training programme with a long history, registered students, and a unique approach based on the work which David and I developed together over more than twenty years. We have a centre in France with thirty acres of mixed terrain and a schedule of summer events as well as its programme of ecotherapy training. We have local groups (rather more than in 1996) and a network of people interested in living Buddhism in a variety of socially engaged ways. In particular, we are interested in the environment and arts, chaplaincy and education, and in the social impact of Buddhist ideas. The difference though, apart from a good number of wrinkles and grey hairs, is that I have been here before. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The early stages of any group, and particularly of an organisation, are caught up in equal quantities of excitement and anxiety. Discovering a shared identity and allowing that identity to be plastic enough to accommodate new people as they arrive, whilst firm enough to give confidence and vision, is a central preoccupation. Amida Trust began with the slogan ‘For Buddhists of All Religions’, and Tariki too is attracting a wide sweep of Buddhist and other spiritual interests. The dialogue which comes from interacting viewpoints is rich, but I am well aware from past experience that there is a fine balance between debate and conflict. I am not shy of my own position as a Pureland Buddhist teacher, but as a Pureland Buddhist I know the imperfection of my view and have no illusion of having the last word. I welcome others from different backgrounds to lead retreat days or contribute to our teaching programme. ‘All Buddhism is good’ to quote Vietnamese master Thich Minh Chau, and my experience of hospital chaplaincy, among other things, has given me experience in clarifying and balancing the specific with the generic, or the specific with the other specific. Let’s learn from one another.
More than this, though, I have learned that dialogue founded on collaboration is stronger than that set in abstraction. Positions which apparently oppose can actually turn out to be based on similar qualities whilst near neighbours can be quite incompatible. Holding hands around a candle can be as meaningful as complex ceremonial, but both have their place in the big scheme of things. Issues which divide are often based in placing too much emphasis on creating difference and protocol, but without acknowledgment of our distinct interests and commitments, decision making can become blurred and lead to resentment. Power goes with responsibility and not with ‘rights’. It is often the washing up or cleaning the cat litter which causes more grief in communities than discussion of the nature of enlightenment, and the best way for a leader to create harmony is to share in these tasks.
So Tariki Trust welcomes Buddhists of all religions who are committed to living their faith rather than just talking about it. We sit in a circle and bow to the Buddha, touching the earth and remembering that it is the source of refuge for all of us and so needs care and appreciation like the rest of us. ‘Living is Education’ so we participate. We review our past experiences and choose the best and most effective, whilst letting go things which do not seem to suit the new circumstances. What a roller coaster!
Our first month has seen an incredible amount of hard work by many people. Having created an organisation with its own board of trustees and constitution, we have given birth to an identity, in good Buddhist tradition forming an illusion of permanence out of the chaos of samsara. We have created web sites, brought together new networks around Buddhist therapy, chaplaincy and ecotherapy, and set up a programme of courses, retreats and events in our centres in Narborough and France. We are talking to artists about exhibiting in the house and those who might lead courses in a variety of interesting but related topics. The universe is sending us body workers and shamans, musicians and gardeners. We are looking for those who can wield a paint brush, push a lawnmower, or set up internet connections. The process is both familiar and innovative.
Above all, though, we are enjoying discovering community once more in all its rainbow moods. Who knows what Tariki will become, but I do feel confident that, second time round, like its predecessor, this baby will also fly.
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