Mark has been attending the Milton Keynes Meditation Association since spring 2010. Here he shares his process in becoming a Mitra.
My journey began in January of 2010, when I discovered a ‘Western’ form of Buddhism existed, whilst researching online. I had been interested in Buddhism for some time but had always struggled to identify with the Eastern discourses through which Buddhism has developed. Whilst Buddhism seemed to offer a sound basis on which to develop ethics, it all seemed a little exotic and mysterious for a bloke like me, from a simple working class background, to truly believe in. So this idea ofÂ ‘Western Buddhism’ intrigued me.
After a few days thought, some further research and deliberation, I found out that an outreach meditation group from Cambridge Buddhist Centre, met in Milton Keynes. I tentatively emailed Vajrapriya, the ‘mitra convenor’ and after some friendly correspondence, made my first visit to the Milton Keynes Meditation Association.
I was relieved that there was no pressure to ‘join’ in any way. I value the freedom which is given to make up my own mind and I find it refreshing that I can challenge and disagree without issue. I started attending regularly and developing my meditation practice. By early summer I considered myself a Buddhist and decided to pursue this further by asking to become a Mitra. This surprised me as I always considered myself to be quite individualistic and not the sort of person who ‘joins’ anything.
Mitra means friend in Sanskrit and refers to someone who: Feels that they are a Buddhist; is trying to practice the 5 ethical precepts; and wants to deepen their practice. It is not a requirement that you have any fixed beliefs; you do not have to believe in rebirth or agree with any particular ‘holy book’ or specific way of practice.
I met with Vajrapriya in June and discussed becoming a Mitra seriously. A ceremony was arranged for December, where I would publically commit to the 5 ethical precepts during a Puja at Cambridge Buddhist Centre, alongside a number of other potential new Mitras. Heavy snow and a car breakdown scuppered these plans but served to strengthen my resolve to develop my practice and to become a Mitra.
On May 19th 2011, the day finally came. I was one of 11 new Mitras welcomed into the Cambridge Sangha (spiritual community). The ceremony was simply beautiful. It began with a period of Metta (loving kindness) meditation, then each new mitra was introduced in turn by the order member or mitra who knew them best. Jayasiddhi, gave my introduction to the Sangha; describing my qualities and rejoicing in my merits. It was very touching to have a friend speak of me in this way and whilst it did feel a little embarrassing, the warmth and honesty conveyed in the introductions made the ceremony feel personal and very special.
The introductions were followed by a talk by Arthapriya, in which he described becoming a Mitra in terms of ‘not changing into someone different but becoming more yourself’ as you develop along the path. This resonated with me, describing the thought process I had been going through in words I could not quite find. We then had a period of Puja (a devotional ritual) in both Pali and English, in call and response, followed by the offering of a flower, a candle and some incense by each of the new Mitras. The evening ended with the chanting of the Shakyamuni mantra and the giving of gifts. The ceremony was much more intense and emotionally powerful than I ever would have expected – a wonderfullyÂ overwhelming experience which left me buzzing with life, energy and so full of love.
The reasons for becoming a Mitra may be different for each person who chooses to do so. It offers no special privileges other than potentially providing access to a Mitra study group and events organised for the Mitra Sangha. Although personally I live 50 miles from Cambridge, and work and family responsibilities mean access to these is limited. Yet, it is something that feels ‘right’, which I dearly value and do not regret in any way. So, rather than answering the question, why become a Mitra? I ask what does it mean to me, what is being a Mitra all about?
And the only answer that seems to make any sense is …’Everything and nothing’
If you would like to find out more, you can find information about becoming a Mitra on Cambridge Buddhist Centre’s website (by following the link below)