Albion Place is easy to overlook. It is a small cul-de-sac of old Victorian terraces mid-way between Exeter University and the town centre. I visited on the 11th July in the evening. Number 14, towards the end of the road, has been the home of the Reverend Myfanwy McCorry, a monk in the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, for about four years. Reverend Myfanwy explained that all ordained monastics are called monks regardless of gender. Their founder had briefly considered using ‘nuns’ as the generic term, but some men had felt a little uncomfortable with this idea. The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives has centres across the UK and follows Soto Zen (Serene Reflection Meditation Tradition).
The property has a shrine and meditation room, and sitting room, and hosts regular meditation meetings for local people. Rev. Myfanwy also undertakes priestly functions, for example at funerals, but this is a peripheral role to her main function as a monk following Vinaya precepts.
Rev. Myfanwy recognised the value of the NBO in encouraging networking and would welcome more support for thisso that she could know who to contact in response to a particular query or issue. She also welcomed any support the NBO could give towards organising or facilitating regional meetings so that local Exeter Buddhist groups could interact and find out more about each other.
We discussed the question of interfaith networks and involvement with them. Although interfaith activity is well-intentioned and positive relationships between faiths are good to have, it is difficult to know quite what to make of interfaith networks in general. Visiting other places of worship is pleasant, as is socialising with those from other faiths. However, such meetings never seem to get beyond social niceties and quite often seem to assume some sort of ‘fuzzy equality’ between faiths; the idea that all faiths are at root, somehow the same. I think this a pretty debatable proposition. Maybe Interfaith groups are primarily for the purpose of socialising and making friends and hence avoiding substantial debate between faiths.
One thing that is certain is that interfaith activity can easily absorb a great deal of time and energy with little concrete to show. This is a potential problem for small Buddhist groups – just maintaining the viability of such groups requires a great deal of effort. So, perhaps Interfaith involvement is best viewed as a pleasant social activity and as something of a luxury for those organisations with sufficient time to spare.
As with other UK Buddhist organisations, the idea or efficacy of the ‘dana economy’ is not well understood. Western convert Buddhists do not generally donate enough to avoid a deficit arising.
Rev Myfanwy recognised the difficulties experienced by volunteers who worked hard to keep Buddhist organisations and retreat centres running. They had no formal status as a renunciant, priest, or monk, and often no particular practice path. They tended to have all of the disadvantages and none of the advantages of the ordained.
We discussed the rather deceptive way in which some organisations name their groups. I think it is reasonable for a meditation or Buddhist society in a locale or institution (University for example) to be very clear about what it offers. Either it acts as an umbrella group for all Buddhist traditions and calls itself, for example, ‘The Kent University Buddhist Society’, or if it represents a particular tradition or organisation, then it is clearly named as such. To do otherwise is to mislead newcomers to Buddhism and to lead to tension between Buddhist organisations.
The Dragon Bell Temple is a very peaceful destination-- especially considering its proximity to the town centre.
For more information the web site is: http://www.throssel.org.uk/