In 1998, Leeds Faith Forum had requested a Buddhist representative. As a result of this, the Leeds Buddhist Council (LBC) was established comprising:
Dhammapala (Leeds) a lay group of Harnham Vihara
Dechen Community (Yorkshire)
Soka Gakkai International (Leeds)
New Kadampa Tradition (Pocklington - York)
Leeds Zen Group
International Zen Association UK (Leeds)
Buddhist Hospice Trust
One of the LBC, Jan Metcalfe, has until recently been very active on interfaith bodies. Barbara, the LBC Secretary, has also been similarly active. This sparked a discussion about Buddhist involvement in interfaith and SACRE groups. The general feeling was somewhat cynical. The intentions behind interfaith activity are invariably good; the problem is that such bodies rarely seem to achieve anything and absorb a lot of energy. Buddhists are usually working people with responsibilities and with little spare time. Such spare time as they have is usually taken with voluntary Buddhist activity and household and family commitments. There is often the feeling that a lot of precious time can easily be wasted in conscientiously attending interfaith meetings.
From my own experience, SACRE’s in particular are dominated by Christian traditions, and representatives from the smaller faiths often feel that they are present simply ‘to put a tick in the box’ rather than being encouraged to contribute in a significant way (or at all). SACRE’s are composed of six Christian representatives from the major denominations and one representative each from Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Moslem and Sikh faiths. There are in addition some eight teachers and nine councillors and local authority representatives.
The majority of teacher and local authority representatives are also of a conservative Christian orientation. The end result is that any representative of the minority faiths is greatly outnumbered and usually ends up being little more than an uncomfortable observer. The RE Curriculum is also heavily weighted towards Christianity with minimal time given to other faiths, and this sits within legislation that requires schools to undertake regular Christian acts of worship. Perhaps it is reasonable to ask whether it is worth attending such meetings?
Barbara observed that it was the ‘same old, same olds’ who attended interfaith and SACRE meetings. She also noted that interfaith meetings seemed to operate on a stimulus /response basis; ie a particular problem was perceived by a faith group and reported at an interfaith meeting. A response to this problem or crisis was then sought. In between such ‘flare ups’, not much happened. However, perhaps on a more positive note, an agreement had been implemented to have multi-faith winter lights in Leeds.
Does any reader of this report have any positive and upbeat experiences of Buddhist contributions to interfaith and SACRE's around the UK? I would like to have some evidence to counter my curmudgeonly outlook.
Intra Buddhist relations in Leeds and Yorkshire are pretty good, with a joint Wesak celebration and communal meal. Some groups were more active in the LBC than others; the NKT seemed to be the most reluctant to contribute their time.
I was very grateful to Barbara and the LBC for organising a meeting with me and I found the discussion very helpful.
An excellent website for Leeds Buddhism can be found at: http://www.communigate.co.uk/brad/leedsbuddhistgroup/page2.phtml