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Buddhism in the West

Buddhism: Introduction

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Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO): Key facts

Information: A brief summary of the history and key teachings of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO). To learn more about the FWBO visit their official website.

The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) is a Buddhist community founded by Sangharakshita in London, in 1968.

Sangharakshita's original name was Dennis Lingwood.

Dennis Lingwood was born in Tooting, South London in 1925, and raised as an Anglican Christian. When he was 16 he realised he was a Buddhist after reading the Diamond Sutra. During World War II he went to India, where he lived for 20 years. Whilst there he was ordained as a Theravadin monk and named Sangharakshita, which means, 'protected by the spiritual community'.

Sangharakshita lived for 14 years in the Himalayan town of Kalimpong, where he is said to have met and studied with many respected Tibetan Buddhist teachers. He returned to the UK in the mid-1960s to teach the dharma, and set up the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order.

Sangharakshita began teaching classes in the basement of a London shop.

Sangharakshita at the Western Buddhist Order Convention (2005) - Copyright John Wigham

Sangharakshita at the Western Buddhist Order Convention (2005) - Copyright John Wigham

The FWBO has over 90 centres worldwide. Outside of the UK its largest following is in India, where it is known as Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana (TBMSG).

In 1995 Sangharakshita retired from active leadership in the FWBO. The group is now led by a collective of senior Order members.

The Western Buddhist Order (WBO) is the organisational and authoritative focal-point of the FWBO.


The FWBO regards itself as an ecumenical movement. It does not align itself to any of the traditional Buddhist schools, but draws from many different streams of belief and practice.

Sangharakshita promoted the idea of looking at those things people and traditions have in common with each other, rather than dwelling on their differences.

Sangharakshita regarded 'going for refuge' as the supreme act in Buddhism. He believed that if people committed themselves to the Three Jewels, and used them as their highest value in life, then they would continually make progress towards achieving Enlightenment.

The Three Jewels in Buddhism are also known as the Three Refuges, and these are: (1) taking refuge in the Buddha, (2) taking refuge in the Dharma (Buddha's teaching) and (3) taking refuge in the Sangha (Buddhist community). People recite this formula as a way of expressing their commitment to becoming a Buddhist.

The WBO is made up of men and women who have committed themselves to following the Buddhist path towards Enlightenment, through their local FWBO centre.

The FWBO does not have any formal spiritual hierarchy (such as priests), although it is acknowledged that some members are more spiritually advanced than others. This is because whether a person is called a monk, nun or lay-person, they believe everyone faces the same spiritual issues (this being the need to find Enlightenment).

Ordained members of the Order are known as Dharmacharis (men) and Dharmacharinis (women).

Ordained members wear a kesa (scarf) to show they have been ordained into the FWBO. They wear this when teaching or leading devotions (puja).

A person is ordained into the FWBO when their desire to 'go for refuge' is acknowledged and accepted by the other members. At their ordination a person will be given a new name to reflect a quality they should develop in their life.

Non-ordained people who are involved with (and committed to) the FWBO are called Mitras.

There is a strong emphasis on the Sangha (Buddhist community), friendship and working together (also known as team-based Right Livelihood).

Mindfulness of Breathing (focusing on one's breathing), the Development of Loving-kindness (Metta Bhavana) and Just Sitting (a time of reflection after meditation) are the main meditation practices taught in centres. Concentration, mindfulness and emotional positivity are considered the essential basis for meditation.

'Meditation is a means of transforming the mind... By engaging with a particular meditation practice one learns the patterns and habits of the mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being. With discipline and patience these calm and focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly tranquil and energised states of mind. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life.' (What is meditation?,

The FWBO encourages the use of art as a means and expression of religious devotion. In 1978 they opened the London Buddhist Art Centre. In 1993 the Evolution Arts & Health Centre was opened in Brighton (England).

Something to do: Spend some time browsing pictures of FWBO centres, events and art. A link to these photographs can be found here.

The FWBO has been described as both a 'cult' and a pseudo-Buddhist movement. The former criticism is due to the fact that it was centered around a charismatic leader; the latter is due to the nature of some of its radical teachings (in particular the idea that one is free to discard any of the traditional Buddhist teachings which are deemed to be irrelevant in modern life).

"Buddhism will only become firmly rooted in the west, when it has learned to speak the language of western culture." (Sangharakshita)

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