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Home Newsletters So-Wide Space MARCH 2011

So-Wide Space MARCH 2011

Article Index
So-Wide Space MARCH 2011
Visit of Venerable Dhammika to the OCBS
Recent Lectures
Adult Education at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies
Trinity Term Lectures
Events by other organisations
All Pages


Welcome to the March issue of So-Wide Space.  In this edition we have details of the visit by Venerable Dhammika to the OCBS plus Richard Gombrich gives us details on the recent lectures he has been giving.

We also have details of our upcoming Lecture Series in Trinity term and Sarah Shaw provides us with information on an informal initiative in Adult Education that she is currently carrying out.

Finally, we list some of the events that other organisations have told us about which we hope may be of interest.

Thank you for your continued interest in So-Wide and we hope things are well with you in your part of the world.

Please note that the views expressed in individual articles do not necessarily represent those of So-Wide, its sister organisations, or its officials


Visit of Venerable Dhammika to the OCBS

Venerable Dhammika was spending some time at the Oxford Vihara with one of our Board Members - Venerable Dhammasami.  As part of his visit to Oxford he gave a talk at the OCBS offices.

Venerable Dhammika is the author of about 20 books.  "The Broken Buddha", which was originally a private document, was printed on the website without his consent and has since provoked controversy.  In this text he critiques several aspects of the practice of Theravada Buddhism - particularly in the Sangha - with the intent of questioning how Theravada practices can be adapted into Western societies.  This work has garnered many strong reactions of varying types.

To start his talk, Venerable Dhammika gave a short outline of this book and his intentions in writing it.  He stressed how his interest was primarily on questioning how Theravada could mesh with western societies.  He then gave an overview of the criticisms that are generally said about his book and gave his perspectives on them.   The floor was then opened to questions.

What followed was a wide ranging discussion on various aspects of the book as well as the reactions to it.

Venerable Dhammika ended by giving us an overview of his other publications and spoke a little on his current project - and Encyclopaedia of all the Flora and Fauna mentioned in the Tipitika.

The evening was very stimulating with some very interesting discussion on tradition and change.

Recent Lectures

Richard Gombrich writes:


Things recently have been busy. On the morning of Tuesday 15 February, OCBS played host to Prof Liam Gieron, of the University’s Department of Education, who brought 20 trainee teachers of religious education to learn about our work. I had expected a visit of maybe 20 minutes, focussing on the OCBS itself, but it turned out that the party was eager to hear me give a wide-ranging talk about teaching Buddhism and happy to stay for 2 hours. Susan efficiently fuelled a coffee break, and after it we had a lively question and answer session, so all went smoothly.

The next day I was off to Bath Spa University, at the invitation of the Ven Dr Mahinda Deegalle, who teaches Buddhism there. I gave the first in what he hopes will be a series of guest lectures. Though the talk was primarily intended for his students, it was announced as open to the public, and attended by about 70 people. I spoke for an hour on “The Buddha’s teaching as the Middle Way”, and then there were many questions, some of them excellent.

I had tried to find a broad and varied subject for a mixed audience. So I talked of 5 ways in which the Buddha’s teaching could be characterised as a middle way – there are of course more. First, it advocates the middle way between self-indulgence and asceticism. Second, it claims to offer a middle way between the extremes eternalism and annihilationism. Third, it offers, or is said to offer, a middle way between being and non-being – whatever that may mean. Fourthly, the karma doctrine shows a middle way between determinism and random causality. Finally, the Buddha’s view of the connection between language and reality is a middle way between positing that a language can map reality with perfect accuracy (and that Sanskrit does that), and denying that language can capture reality at all (even if we leave open the question of whether there exists a world “out there”).

On Friday 18 February, back in Oxford, I had a slot in the seminar series of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies on mysticism and religious experience. I did what I was asked to do, which was to give a much shortened version of my paper “Religious Experience in Early Buddhism?” This began in 1997 as the Eighth Annual BASR lecture, and was then published in 1998 as the British Association for the Study of Religions Occasional Paper 17, printed by the University of Leeds Printing Service, Leeds.

On Sunday 27 February I am to represent Buddhism at an evening service in Christ Church Cathedral. The Sub Dean, Ed Newell, will ask me prepared questions intended to compare Jesus with the Buddha and Christianity more generally with Buddhism. The questions will be interspersed with music, readings and some prayers. The original list of proposed questions included “How does the Christian understanding of resurrection relate to the Buddhist understanding of reincarnation?”, but luckily we could discuss the proposals and I now feel confident that the dialogue will be more sensible.



Adult Education at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies

by Sarah Shaw

The OCBS is an academic institution and, like others, tries to offer a service to the general public too.

This term at OCBS a class ran for a few sessions for a group of people who were not academics in the field, but already knew a little Buddhist theory. The subject was the factors of awakening (bojjhaṅgas), and we looked at texts, stories and commentaries, mostly from the Pāli tradition, in translation, reading them out in class and discussing terms and terminology, as well as looking at some modern first-person accounts from Buddhist teachers. One session, in which Ven Dr Pannyavamsa (Oxford Buddhist Vihara) explained about his life as a monk, meditation and experiences teaching Buddhism in this country, was particularly popular.

The class, a very mixed group in terms of age, educational attainment and career, has been investigative and lively. As the class drew to a close, people recorded their reasons for wishing to study Buddhist theory and texts. Their responses are varied, as we can see here.

Most liked the sense of being able to study a range of Buddhist topics in an independent atmosphere:

‘The study of Buddhist theory at the OCBS has been/ is most interesting to me because of its breadth. The study and discussion of different aspects of the traditions has shown me why Buddhism supports so many different people and races in their search for a meaningful and rich life.’

Another writes:

‘The course has introduced me to a much more academic approach to Buddhism. This has come as quite a revelation. I had read a lot about Buddhism in the preceding years – mostly by committed practitioners. The course and discussions have provided an approachable introduction to more rigorous studies.’

One man said he had wanted the chance to study Buddhism academically because he could find out about all Buddhist traditions, in a neutral though sympathetic atmosphere, without feeling obliged to ‘sign up, engage in rituals and practices I didn’t feel comfortable with, make demands of time and belief that I wasn’t ready for’.

Such study does, however, also engage those with a longstanding interest from a practical as well as theoretical point of view, who welcome a setting in which to find out more. One writes:

‘My interest in Buddhism goes back to student days in the 1960s, when Zen was a fashionable adjunct to alternative lifestyles. However, I retained some interest throughout 35 years of working in the education service. Since retirement I have enjoyed and benefitted from the opportunity of finding out more about the various traditions of Buddhist meditation, both through the OUDCE and this class at the OCBS. In particular this experience has helped me to understand more about the core concept of mindfulness, and also given me a bit more insight into the Theravada tradition.’

A few work in the public sector or have heard of Buddhism in a psychiatric and psychotherapeutic context, and one comes from research in neuro-science. Such people wanted to find out more about the early context of the tradition:

‘I have come to the OCBS as a complete novice, drawn by my wish to understand a little about the Buddhist tools of therapeutic mindfulness meditation, which is encountering increasingly avid interest in the West. The centre is a warm and welcoming place, calm and book-lined, but nevertheless a place that listens and encourages independent thought and questioning.’

Key terms such as mindfulness, concentration and compassion have been discussed in the context of reading early suttas:

‘Buddhism appeals to many people, but few have much understanding of it beyond encouragements to compassion and peaceful lives. What lies behind such terms as these? We give them our own Western meanings, but that can hardly convey what is special about them, what the deeper message is.’

The classes are primarily academic: but in adult education, for some, reading texts will always be seen as a chance to enjoy what the Buddhist tradition has to offer for purely private and spiritual inspiration:

‘Reading the sutta on loving kindness helped me to apply mindfulness to my everyday life, improved my concentration and experience of tranquillity of mind (very rare states of mind for me)… it feels as if a flower of positive energy, love and compassion, which was hidden for many years for me, suddenly opened and made my life, relationships and environments around me lighter, radiant and more fulfilling.’

Clearly such classes fulfil a need, which may be quite different from that in those where qualifications are the prime aim: courses for the general public are entirely self-motivated and so many different points of views and interests in the subject come to bear on reading the texts and discussing key terms. We would like to provide an academic service, and offer more classes, of different kinds, so please let us know if you have any ideas.

Please contact Sarah on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it




Tue 3rd May Prof. Max Deeg TBA

Tue 10th May Dr. Eve Mullen Tibetan Buddhism and dying

Tue 17th May Dr. Antonello Palumbo Knowledge of Buddhism in early China

Tue 24th May Mr. Suren Raghavan Buddhism and ethnicity in the civil conflict in Sri Lanka

Tue 31st May Dr. Susan Conway Shan Buddhist protective practices

Tue 7th June Dr. David Marsh Does physics today bear any relation to Buddhist ideas, or theories of consciousness?

Tue 14th June Prof. Torkel Brekke Relics and the sacralization of space in modern Buddhism

NB All lectures take place in the Pivate Dining Room, Wolfson college.  They begin at 5.30 and will, we hope, be preceded by tea and cake.


Oxford Zen Society - Weekly meeting

Venue: Friends Meeting House, 53 St. Giles, Oxford

Dates: Thursdays until 17th March (10th March moved to Wednesday 9th March) - sessions resume after the Easter break

Time: 7.15pm - 9pm

Click here for more details




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