Last week I was fortunate to be able to attend the celebration of Sally Masheder's life in Bristol. I arrived in good time but was surprised to find only a few seats left vacant in the large hall. By the time the celebration commenced, more chairs had to be found and the numbers had gone up to well above two hundred. Given that this was at 3.00pm on a Wednesday and many attending had to take time out from work, the size of the congregation demonstrated the love and high regard that so many had for Sally, and the sheer number and range of her interests.
Not only had she been a busy General Practitioner in a Bristol Health Centre, but also very active in both interfaith and in Buddhism, especially Chan Buddhism. And she was a much loved grandmother. For many years, she had acted as the Secretary of the Network of Buddhist Organisations (NBO). Indeed, I regarded her as an engine or dynamo at the heart of the NBO generating energy, organising meeting agendas and keeping in touch with the many NBO members and friends, through email and phone calls.
She appeared indefatigable and so it was a great shock to us all when she found out that she was so seriously ill.
Sally had always been a very strong supporter of the NBO. She realised the importance of encouraging understanding and friendship between the many different Buddhist traditions in the UK. Without deliberate effort to promote friendship, the tendency is for groups to develop in isolation and for misunderstanding, suspicion and sectarianism to grow. We might believe that Buddhism is different and that serious Buddhists will naturally get along, however, this is not the case. Buddhists are human and human groups tend to be suspicious and fearful of each other, so deliberate effort is required to encourage groups to meet and to develop a mutual regard and understanding.
Even during the several years that I have played a role in the NBO I have been surprised at the latent (and actual) tensions and conflicts which exist between different parts of the broader Buddhist community and the unfair criticism that has sometimes been directed at those volunteers who help to run the NBO itself.
Sally became used to the occasional heated accusation that the NBO does not represent UK Buddhism, especially when she passed around invitations from government sources to consult with Buddhists, or she organised events where ethical issues such as homosexuality were discussed. The fact is that no single UK organisation represents Buddhism in any complete or all-encompassing way whatever those running such organisations might believe. UK Buddhism is diverse and complex and it seems to me to be misguided for any organisation to consider and act as though it had a monopoly on 'legitimate Buddhist opinion'.
Given the diversity of UK Buddhism, those running the NBO come from a wide range of supporting traditions. They try to operate in an open, transparent and consultative way. Any sincere and well-meaning Buddhist organistion or individual who fully supports the NBO aims, is welcome to attend NBO meetings and offer their opinion, or contribute their time. This seems to me the only way that a national organisation such as the NBO can operate: as an open and participative organisation that assumes that those participating do so with the best of intentions and with integrity and sincerity: Which basically means that members and supporters act from Buddhist values and that this is given the highest priority.
The loss of Sally has dealt a severe blow to the NBO. I am sure that the best way of recognising Sally's great contribution is to support the NBO so that it becomes an even more inspiring expression of Buddhist values and practice. I think it is inevitable that as Buddhism becomes more established in the UK, the need for intra-Buddhist cooperation will grow. Hopefully the NBO will continue to be a major force to help enable this and by doing so we can avoid sectarian barriers becoming established within UK Buddhism.
So please support the NBO so that it can undertake more good works, organise more intra-buddhist events, improve its communications and channels between Buddhists and civic bodies, and work even better. And please come forward to offer any time or skills you have.
The celebation of Sally's rich life was a very joyful and memorable event. At the end, the chanting by the Western Chan Fellowship was strongly evocative and grounding. And the final poem encouraged us to acknowledge loss but get on with life with renewed vigour:
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well