Becoming a Mitra – Responding to the Inspiration to Follow the Buddhist Path

Asking to become a Mitra (friend) of the Triratna Buddhist Community

What is a Mitra? Mitra is Sanskrit for friend. If you consider yourself a Buddhist and are developing a connection with the Triratna Buddhist Order, you may wish to ask to become a Mitra of the Triratna Buddhist Community, out of your inspiration to follow this particular Buddhist path. This step is the opportunity to have your connection and commitment affirmed by the Triratna Buddhist Order, in the presence of your friends at the Centre. The request to become a Mitra is usually considered once you have been attending Triratna Buddhist Community activities for at least 6 months so that you are familiar with the Triratna approach to the Dharma and have formed some friendships with the people involved at your local Centre.

How do I know that I’m a Buddhist?

There are many ways to answer this question; one straightforward answer is that a Buddhist ‘goes for refuge to the Three Jewels’. The act of Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels is considered fundamental within the Triratna Buddhist Order. Our teacher and founder, Sangharakshita, has frequently emphasised the importance of this over the past forty years. Going for Refuge is important in other Schools of Buddhism, but within the Triratna Buddhist Community it has received particular emphasis.

What are the Three Jewels and what is Going for Refuge?

The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha; that is, the ideal of Enlightenment, the Buddha’s teachings of the path to Enlightenment and the Spiritual community of committed Buddhists.

Going for Refuge is the desire to place these Three Jewels at the heart of one’s life, or at least to live one’s life in a way that reflects the increasing influence of the Three Jewels. Going for Refuge is not something done once. As Buddhists within the Triratna Buddhist Community we try to remain in contact with it all the time and re-commit ourselves to it time and time again. Sometimes we speak of deepening our Going for Refuge and this usually refers to bringing these Three Jewels closer to the Centre of our lives.

Becoming a Mitra is an act that expresses our growing confidence in our spiritual practice. It embodies the desire to Go for Refuge to the Three Jewels. Part of this is the practice of the five ethical precepts. When we begin to follow the Buddha’s teachings, we try to lead a more ethical life, and the five precepts provide a very practical guide. Everyone begins this practice at a different place, of course. It is not so much a matter of where we are by the time we consider ourselves a Buddhist, but more how aware we are of our ethical behaviour and our wish to refine it.

Mitra means ‘friend’

Becoming a Mitra is also a public commitment or statement that one is a friend of the Triratna Buddhist Order. This does not prevent one from having other spiritual connections of course, but it does mean that, after due consideration, you have decided to base your spiritual practice in the context of the Triratna Buddhist Community. You could see it as a way of saying that the Melbourne Buddhist Centre is your principal spiritual home.

Friendship also implies other things. We don’t become a friend and then take no further interest. We seek out our friend to spend time together and to help them when we are able. Being a Mitra involves being prepared to help out at the Centre, looking after the place and supporting events.

What does being a Mitra express?

Becoming a Mitra is an expression of the wish to participate regularly in at least some of the Centre’s activities, to help the Centre as one is able and to develop friendships with those actively involved in the Centre, particularly Order Members and other Mitras.

How do I ask to become a Mitra?

When one of our friends wants to become a Mitra, we usually ask that they put this request in writing; to tell us about their practice and engagement with the spiritual life and the Triratna Community in general or at their local Centre. The written request is sent to either the Women’s or Men”s Mitra Convenor. The Mitra Convenor distributes this request amongst the local Order Members. This enables them to learn a little more about the friend and his or her desire to formalise their relationship to the Triratna Buddhist Community in a Mitra ceremony.

The Mitra Ceremony

Usually the Mitra ceremony takes place in the context of the Sevenfold Puja at one of the main festival days that we celebrate during the year. The Chairperson or Mitra Convenor of the Centre traditionally conducts it. The brief ceremony is a simple affair but deeply meaningful.

Is there a relationship between becoming a Mitra and asking for ordination?

Becoming a Mitra is usually the first step someone takes towards strengthening his or her connection with the Triratna Buddhist Community. As one’s practice and friendships deepen over time, the desire to ask for ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order may arise.

What happens if I no longer want to be involved or be a Mitra?

It happens from time to time that someone, who has previously committed to be a Mitra, may decide that this is no longer for him or her. In this case, for the sake of clarity, it is a good idea to be clear and explicit, and we expect a formal resignation, again in writing to the Mitra Convenor of your Centre.

Hopefully this brief description has helped you to have a greater understanding of what it means to become a Mitra. If you would like to discuss this further or to clarify something, please feel free to speak with any of the Order Members you know.

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