Hello. Thanks for coming by.

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

Here’s an introduction. It says:

  • We’re looking for a resource here.

  • We want it to be widely useful.

  • This has been going on for some time.

  • It’s open for all.

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

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

  • So do join the party

A RESOURCE

In the flood of stimuli, in the rush to perform, it is hard to keep your head. To cope, we tell stories. We remind ourselves of who we are and what we are do­ing. We build narrative selves and spin collective myths. It is easy to get locked in.

It happens all the time, at home and at work. You can get a sense that at best you are wasting your time. How to step out of the loop?

If I want to contribute, then first I must be at home in my life and in my mind, surely. Only, how?

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

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

First you pay attention. How is it for me?

How is it when I go into myself, and when I go out to be with others? How else might it be?

This all bears pondering. It is not easy.

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

What cultural resources might be useful? What traditions can a person draw on?

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

Many reckon so. That is how has come about — So-Wide.

WIDE ANGLE

Names get misleading. Still, it’s hard to do without them.

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

  • It 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.

  • It is good if people find their own way, learning, practising, and reflecting.

  • It is even better when, as well, many can share ways to:

  • see how we all live:

  • in little, everyday dilemmas and

  • in big questions of human destiny, and, in the process, to

  • draw on a rich, lively heritage of

  • texts and practices,

  • histories and groups.

BACK STORY

So-Wide started in 2004. It soon created the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (OCBS) and the Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC).

It has also had an association with the Oxford Buddha Vihara (OBV), and has had something to do with the International Association of Buddhist Universities (IABU). There is quite a history.

By 2011, the OCBS and the OMC had been spun off. Since then, things have been quieter.

One big 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 the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (OCBS) to work in the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

As it happens, all have been from a Tibetan background. That is because the University has a need in that area.

Apart from that, So-Wide continues to work on that wider understanding. In puz­zling over issues that people face today, how to draw on Buddhist tradition?

It is something to talk about. In conferences and discussions, people explore this from many sides, looking at things like:

  • science and scientism
  • teaching people and teaching things
  • doing good business
  • secular mindfulness
  • the new Indian Buddhism.
  • chaplaincy in institutions

You get the idea. It is all about learning in context.

We may have been over-educated, sure, so there is a risk of overdoing the study side — but let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. It is worth consid­ering Buddhist tradition rigorously, in its historical, social and cultural details.

Helpful study brings us back to how it is to live from moment to moment — and how it can be, for each of us, if we work at it. On that basis, it is good to explore all perspectives.

Study can be a form of practice, and practice a form of study. This is nothing new. Many people, from all over, have been doing it for ages. 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? Hello, there — welcome.

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 funny word ‘Buddhism’. Whatever has an ‘-ism’ on the end is generally some sort of theory, but that does not fit here. This is more of a practical wisdom.

It is not about creed and dogma. Conversion does not figure.

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 all those Buddhists there have been? Or, better than ‘Buddhists’, we might say ‘Bauddhas’ — people who take inspiration from the Buddha, as best they can.

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.

Similarly, what goes up on this site may help to re-work our common culture today. So it may interest all sorts of people — from the seriously committed to anyone who has done a little reading and/or practice. There is a certain, low-key study bias, but nothing too daunting.

Some of us who come here may identify with a specific Asian tradition, others not. Others again may not be at all keen on ‘religion’ as conventionally defined, and may instead look for a secular, contemporary, all-comers’ spiritual perspective. Let many flowers bloom!

Someone once did a study on the demography 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 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 seemed surprisingly large. Was that a measure of the Buddhist-inclined population? Possibly. After all, many are looking for truths to live by, and are ready to work on themselves, so are drawn to Buddhist tradition — and then, whether or not they maintain an institutional affiliation, they often keep up some sort of practice and continue to read and study.

A friend, with experience in the field, says that a wide range of hospital patients choose to talk to a ‘Buddhist chaplain.’ Some are from Asian immigrant com­mun­ities, some are keen Western Buddhists, many have just read a bit, and quite a few have only a vague idea. So, there are not only many ‘Buddhist’ strands, there is also a diffuse contingent of ‘Buddhaphiles’, who surely deserve a place.

Perhaps it goes even wider. In every walk of life, there are people who cultivate wisdom and compassion. The prospects for species survival surely rest on such folk. Many may be broadly Buddhist-inclined, but even those who have not engaged with this tradition, or not yet, share much with those of us who have.

So this site is meant for anyone who:

  • values calm and insight, wisdom and compassion,
  • respects evidence and reason, and
  • understands it is good to work on yourself, from the inside.

The idea is for such folk to explore common ground.

STUDY AND PRACTICE

How to approach this? So-Wide has a history here. Our involvement with the two Oxford University charities, the Buddhist Studies Centre and the Mindfulness Centre, shows the way we have tried to go.

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. It is like the way theory and participant observation support each other when someone is doing social science.

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. So what would that be, mind?

Our culture puts great value on abstract rationality. Theory comes first, people suppose — lived experience is almost a pale reflection, sometimes.

That is surely not what the Dhammapada is talking about. Rather, it suggests we can aim to watch our subjective experience, to live it closely, from moment to mo­ment, and so to develop new habits — to train our cognitive behaviour. 

That takes practice. It generally involves, for instance, sitting still sometimes, and paying attention to what’s immediately there for us, like our breathing.

Equally, practice, however necessary, may not be sufficient. Fed up with abstract verbiage, we may imagine so, but this tendency can be overdone.

When people get carried away with weird ideas of rationality, there is sometimes a temptation to give up on reason altogether. Bauddhas, though, have rarely been scared of reasoning, even though they have been acutely aware of dangers in discursive thought. If we look inside ourselves and find some silly thinking, then we need sensible thinking — and the same goes when we contemplate the world at large.

If meditative practice is helpful in living, then among other things it helps with thinking — and when we get a general habit of thinking clearly, that supports introspection too. It also helps in navigating the social sphere

The social world does bear careful consideration. Retreat to a jungle or a hilltop, and you can let it all go, which can be very helpful — but when you spend your time in the electronic global village, you will want to think it through. If working with Bauddha tradition cannot help here, then we are in trouble.

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 hopefully add to the rich mix. Let’s build this together.

RSVP

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

If you think there might be, then have a look at the material on this site. Is it useful? How? What else might be good?

Would you like to sign up for an occasional newsletter? Do you know like-minded folk who might also be interested?

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

At the moment, the main idea is to build up the Visitorship scheme. This will involve liaising with the institutions from which our Visitors come — and also inviting support in the UK.

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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