Hello. Thanks for coming by.

Welcome to this charitable venture. Please make it your own.         

Here’s an introduction. It says:

  • This is a resource.

  • We want it to be widely useful.

  • The charity has been going for some time.

  • The adventure is open to all.

  • It aims to span the gap between study and practice.

  • It is big on thinking, not least about the social world.

So do join the party!

A RESOURCE

If I want to contribute, then first I must be the sort of person who can. I must be at home in my life and in my mind. 

Does it help to pause, perhaps? To slow down, and to take in a wider, longer view?

In the flood of stimuli, in the rush to perform, it is hard to keep the head. To cope, we tell stories.

We remind ourselves of who we are and of what we are do­ing. We build narrative selves and we spin collective myths.

It is easy to get locked in. It happens, at home and at work — you get a sense of wasting your life. How to step out of the loop?

People can do that, surely. You can work on yourself.

First you pay attention. You look at where you are in your mind, here and now.

If I learn to be with myself, then I shall probably get along with others and understand the world. It must be worth a try!

And it works the other way, too, perhaps. If I get a sense of how people are and how the world goes round, then that will help me deal with ups and downs. 

It is good to retreat from the world, but unless you do that full-time you will want to think clearly about what is going on as the Anthropocene era progresses. Otherwise, it will just niggle.

This all bears pondering. It is work — not easy.

We could do with some help, a little inspiration. Where to look?

What cultural resources are there to draw on? What traditions?

How about those that go back to the Buddha? Might there be something there?

Many reckon so — hence this So-Wide initiative. It comes out of people trying to tap in to that resource.

WIDE ANGLE

Names get misleading. Still, they are hard to do without.

‘So-Wide’ is the Society for the Wider Understanding of Buddhist Tradition. The idea is that:

  • This is about ‘Buddhist tradition’ generally — no particular Buddhist tradition, nor ‘the’ tradition in the sense of a tightly defined core.

  • It is about a wide understanding, which takes in many aspects and approaches.

We can also widen our circle. It is good when people find their own way — and it is also good when many can share ways:

      • to understand::

          • everyday dilemmas
            and also

          • big questions about society and humanity,and

      • to draw on a rich heritage of

        • texts and practices,

        • groups and histories.

STORY

Institutions have a life-story. This one, So-Wide started in 2004.

It then created the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (OCBS) and the Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC). It has links with the Oxford Buddha Vihara (OBV) and with the International Association of Buddhist Universities (IABU).  

In 2011, the OCBS and the OMC were spun off. Since then, things have been quieter.

One goal has been to bring together traditional and modern Buddhist learning. This has led to the Visitorship for Traditional Scholars at Oxford.

Since 2011, this scheme has supported a series of traditional scholars visiting Oxford to work in the Faculty of Oriental Studies. As it happens, all have been from a Tibetan background, but that is just because the University has a need in that area.

In addition, So-Wide continues to work on wider understanding. How to understand what we get from Buddhist tradition so that it helps with issues people face today?

That is worth some thought. In formal conferences and loose discussions, we can look at stuff like:

  • science and scientism
  • teaching people and teaching things
  • doing good business
  • secular mindfulness
  • Buddhism in different places (like the West and India).

We may have been over-educated, sure, and in that case there is a risk of putting too much stress on the study side — but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is worth considering Buddhist tradition rigorously, in detail, and then looking at the world around us with fresh eyes.

Study can bring us back to how it is to live from moment to moment. It can be a form of practice, just as practice can be a form of study.

This is nothing new. Still, there is perhaps a certain potential here at this time and place. See what you think.

ALL ABOARD

Are you interested, or might you be? Good — welcome aboard.

If you count yourself a Buddhist, splendid. If you are shy of labels, then that is an attitude with a great pedigree, too.

It is a odd word ‘Buddhism’. Whatever has an ‘-ism’ on the end is generally some sort of theory, but that does not fit here. This is not about creed and dogma — it is a path, not a theory. 

The aim is not to define ‘what Buddhism says’ and then to follow that gold standard. It is about exploring ways to behave, not least in the mind.

Explorers read the tales of earlier travellers. So what can people learn from those who have trod this path

Historically, when new populations have come to Buddha-dharma, they have not rejected their existing cultural endowment. Instead, they have re-worked it, fitting it into a wider envelope.

Can we likewise re-work our common culture today? That is a project which may interest all sorts of people — from the seriously committed to anyone who has done a little reading and/or practice.

Some of us may identify with a specific Asian tradition, others not. Others again may not be keen on ‘religion’ and may instead look for a spiritual perspective.

Someone once did a demographic study of UK Buddhists. Was the census a reliable guide? What else to go on? She took the Buddhist Society’s list of UK Dharma Centres and sampled them. She then asked for an estimate of how many people attend at least twice a year, and how rapidly that population turns over. The total over ten years, say, seemed surprisingly large.

Many want to work on themselves, so are drawn to this tradition. They may affiliate to an institution, or they may just do a practice and continue to read and study.

A friend with experience in the field says that all sorts of hospital patients want to talk to a ‘Buddhist chaplain.’ Some are from Asian immigrant com­mun­ities, and some are keen Western Buddhists, but many have just read a bit, and a few have only vague ideas. There are all sorts of ‘Buddhist’ strands, and there is also a diffuse contingent of ‘Buddhaphiles’, who surely deserve a place.

In every walk of life, there are people who cultivate wisdom and compassion. The prospects for species survival rest on such folk.

Many may be broadly Buddhist-inclined, but even those who are not, or not yet, share much with those of us who do. We can explore common ground.

STUDY AND PRACTICE

It is important to feed the head — and it does not have to be at the expense of the heart. Study and practice can go together, and rightly do. 

Alas, our conditioning is against us. The supposed split between ‘reason’ and ‘emotion’ is seared into our flesh. We live in that schizoid shadow, ever more in this time of ‘transhumanism’.

We have all the more incentive to work on this, then. Anything that can bridge the gap between Buddhist Studies and Buddhist practice must be worth a go.

TOOLS FOR THINKING OF THE WORLD

Mind leads the way, says the first verse of the Dhammapada. What would that be, then, mind?

Our culture values abstract reason. Theory comes first, people think. Actual exper-ience seems almost like a pale reflection. Is that  what the Dhammapada is talking about? Hardly!

Rather, it suggests we can aim to watch our subjective experience and so train our cognitive behaviour. On that basis, we can also watch and adjust the way we meet intellectual challenges

People get carried away with ideas of rationality. So there is sometimes a temptation to give up on it altogether.

Bauddhas, though, (who take inspiration from the Buddha), have rarely been scared of reasoning, even though they have been acutely aware of the dangers in discursive thought. If you find some silly thinking in yourself, then you look for sensible thinking.

It is good to retreat to a forest or a hilltop and let go of the world. Equally, when you spend time in the electronic global village, you will want to think it through. If Bauddha wisdom cannot help here, then we are in trouble.

If it helps to be mindful, then among other things it will also help with thinking. A settled mind is a look-out point  from which to view the social world.

So this site is in favour of thinking. You’ll find some think-pieces here that grow out of So-Wide’s nearly two decades of activity.

Comments and contributions in a similar vein will add to the rich mix. Let us build this together.

RSVP

What say you? Is there room for something along these lines?

If you think there might be, then is what you can find here useful? If so, how (and, if not, how)? What else might be good?

Would you like to sign up for an occasional newsletter? Can you think of any like-minded folk who might also be interested?

What else might we do? Would you like to do something?

At the moment, one thing people can contribute to is the Visitorship scheme. It is a place to start, at least.

Comments welcome!

Get in touch

Interested in learning more about So-Wide? Feel free to get in touch as we are here to provide you with more information and answer any questions you may have.

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