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Third Buddhist Summit -- Phnom Penh,

Cambodia
December 2002
Speech by Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso

Respected Venerables and Distinguished Guests. It is an honour for me to
be here today.
I was born a Christian, was educated in Christian schools, and I even sang
in the local church choir. But when I read my first book on Buddhism,
at the age of 16,
I
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moved by the compassion, the wisdom, and the freedom that shone more
brilliantly in the Lord Buddha's Teachings than in anything else I had met
before. Experiences similar to my own are being repeated hundreds of
thousands of times, in the lives of the people of this 21st century. When
ordinary people in non-Buddhist countries encounter the pure Teachings
of Buddhism, presented in a clear and reliable manner, then they quickly
recognize it as the most fragrant of all paths, the most precious of all
truths, and the best of all religions. They only wonder why such
liberating wisdom is not made more widely known.
In my own land, Australia, the number of Buddhists was insignificant in
1983, when I first arrived from Thailand. By 1991, the proportion of
Buddhists grew to 0.8%. In 1996, that had increased to 1.1%. Recently, in
the Australian Census of August 2001, the number of Buddhists had
grown by 75% to 1.9% of the population. That is almost one in fifty
Australians declaring themselves to be Buddhists. As the Christian
religion declines in the West,
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..
That is good news and bad news. It is good news in that more Australians
are benefiting from the world's most peaceful religion. It is bad news in
that it means monks like me have to work so much harder with more
disciples to look after!
I would now like to suggest why I think Buddhism is growing so well in the
West. I will use the acronym PURE to summarize four key strategies
that have helped extend the spread of Buddhism:
1. Presentation -- in ordinary language
2. User friendly -- inviting and accessible
3. Relevant -- concerned with everyday problems
4. Examples -- monks leading by example
1. Presentation
If we want the wonderful T
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generation, then it needs t to o b be e p pr re es se en nt te ed d i in n a a m mo od de er rn n w wa ay y. It is not the
essence of the Dharma that needs to be changed, it is the presentation
that needs continual adjustment. The generations of tomorrow are not
going to listen to boring monks droning on, giving irrelevant sermons.
We all know that the Lord Buddha said to teach the Dharma in ordinary
language (e.g. Aranavibhanga Sutra). Let me give an example of what I
think this means. Last century, Western priests and scholars dismissed
Buddhism as pessimistic, saying that it only focuses on suffering. This
was even repeated by Pope John Paul II in his controversial book on
world religions. To avoid this misunderstanding one may rearrange the
central Dharma Teaching of the Four Noble Truths as Happiness
(Dukkhanirodho); the Cause of Happiness (the Eight-Fold Path); the
Absence of Happiness (Dukkha); and the Cause for the Absence of
Happiness (Craving). This shifts the focus onto happiness.
This is a simple re-packaging of the Dharma that retains the essence
while being more attractive to modern audiences. It is justified by the
Lord Buddha's statement that "
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""
(Dhammapada 203, 204). When I present the Four Noble Truths in such a
way, I find all generations listen and come back for more.
2. User Friendly
Presenting the Dharma in ordinary language is the first step to making
Buddhism user friendly. However, I have found many cases of people, in
the West and in the East, who want to learn about Buddhism but are too
afraid to come into the temple or monastery because they are not
familiar with the traditional customs, or even because they are scared of
scowling monks!
When Buddhist temples are more welcoming to their visitors, and more
accommodating to newcomers, when the monks are more approachable,
then the temple is user friendly.
In these modern times, though, people are so busy that they rarely have
time to visit the temple. S
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Buddhist Society of Western Australia has a large web-site that loads
weekly spoken Dharma talks in English so that anyone, anywhere in the
world can listen to Dharma in the comfort of their own homes at a time
convenient to them. This has been highly successful with a large audience
of regular disciples all over the world, with no need for expensive and
extravagant buildings.
3. Relevant
Religions like Christianity are declining in the West because they are seen
as irrelevant to most people's lives. Few are concerned about abstract
philosophy, rituals with no apparent meaning, or with speculations that go
against reason. However, they are very concerned about how to
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..
I have found it easy to explain that keeping moral precepts raises one's
average level of happiness, just as a rising tide lifts the average level of
the sea. The result is that many of my audience keep the Five Precepts.
It is also not difficult to illustrate that kindness to your colleagues,
family and to yourself, brings much more comfort into your life. So my
disciples become less angry and more forgiving. There is so much
medical evidence to prove that traditional Buddhist meditation practices
ease the stress of modern life and relieve so many other related
problems. So the members of my temple are all keen meditators. These
three central Buddhist trainings -- morality, kindness and meditation --
when framed in the context of personal growth in happiness, attract so
many to Buddhism. They relate to what many people consider as important
to them.
When we focus on what is relevant to ordinary people, then Buddhism
becomes important to them. They might begin with interest in solving
their worldly problems, but that soon leads to the Path that liberates one
from all suffering.

4. Examples
All this means nothing to the modern generation without high quality
leaders to provide the inspiration. The growth of Buddhism relies
crucially on living examples of virtuous, compassionate, wise and peaceful
monks. People of the 21st century are skeptical. They withhold their
belief until they see some evidence that it will benefit them. Does
Buddhism help? Does it really lead to virtue, compassion, contentment
and freedom? They are looking at us monks for examples of where
Buddhism leads, before they will follow. How can we expect to inspire
the questioning modern generation when monks live in luxury, more
wealthy that the common person, when we are slack in our precepts and
know little of serenity? The Dharma is spread mostly by example, much
more powerfully than by any sermon.
As one well educated Australian wrote in her recent book, before
becoming a Buddhist she observed the monks in Perth for many months.
When she saw that they were very frugal, kept their precepts, worked
hard and were very happy, only then did she go for refuge and start
calling herself a Buddhist
.
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So, for example, in Western Australia we have established monasteries
for training Sangha leaders of both genders, what I call a 'monk factory'
and a 'nun factory'. By putting many resources into training high quality
Sangha leaders we will be ensuring the supply of high quality examples for
the next generation.
T
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tth
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ee. We do not need to
change the message of the Lord Buddha, nor do we need to change the
monastic rules. We may fulfill our duty to the Greatest Teacher, our Lord
Buddha, and spread the delightful Dharma throughout all parts of our
modern world, by
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o
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U
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,, R
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the inspiring Examples.
Thankyou.
Ajahn Brahmavamso
Bodhinyana Monastery ,Western Australia, September 2002