How to commemorate the first anniversary of your Buddha vihara? This was the question facing Ven. Dr Phra Khru Panyasiri (perhaps better known as Phra Maha Laow), the Abbot of the Buddhavihara in Kings Bromley. His solution was to bring together two gatherings:
- A gathering of Sangha members from Europe and Thailand (including representations from Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Woking, and also the Oxford Buddha Vihara).
- A multifaith gathering with presentations from people from a wide range of faiths
In the UK, particularly the West Midlands, and especially Birmingham, some Buddhist centres have distinguished themselves with their active involvement in interfaith (to which my mother, Fuengsin Trafford made a significant contribution). However, I found this gathering particularly remarkable because of the various presentations on the interfaith theme from members of Thai Sangha, including some of senior rank. I'm sure my mother would have approved!
In fact it was one of her long-time Buddhist co-workers (if that's the correct term), Yann Lovelock, who passed on an invitation to the event and looking at the programme I saw it as a good opportunity to reconnect with people: the programme itself had considerable input from the University of Derby and the Multi-Faith Centre there; I had worked for both of these between 1998 and 2000 (the latter for fundraising and Internet-related projects). It gave me a chance to see again Paul Weller, Eileen Fry and quite a number of the steering group who had co-created the MFC and seen it through to completion over a long period.
Indeed Prof. Paul gave the keynote speech describing the rapidly contours of the British religious landscape and indicated how the handling of difference was critical to the subsequent development of good relations - else it can all too easily lead to sectarianism. And many speakers pointed to ways to bring about the happy, constructive path, not least learning how to listen in respectful silence. There was a considerable amount of useful input, particularly nice to see the Universities of Derby and Staffordshire develop some synergy in work on religion and spirituality.
The presentations were brought to a fine conclusion by Bhikkhu Sugandha, whose excellent command of English and dramatic style of delivery struck me as being rather unusual - no wonder that it turns out he is a Cambridge graduate! Bhante Sugandha cleverly played with a metaphorial image of an individual faith being like a violin - a superficial acquaintance can make it sound terribly scratchy and discordant, whereas a maestro can make it sound so melodious. However, what was really sought was the harmony of an orchestra where all maestros come together to play a symphony ...
Many monks, plenty of dialogue, lots of photos, supported by traditional Thai hospitality. The weather was reasonably clement - it only rained whilst we were inside the marquee and on the way back from the train I saw a couple of rainbows. :-)