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. Mitras are people who have made what we call a ‘provisional’ commitment to practicing the Dharma within our spiritual community. This involves a commitment to Buddhism, to practicing the Buddhist path as taught within our tradition, and to the Triratna Buddhist Community as the main context for your practice. This committment is summarised in the Three Declarations.
1. “I feel that I am a Buddhist”
This declaration means that you have come to feel a sense of identification with the Buddhist tradition; in down-to-earth terms, it might mean that you would write ‘Buddhist’ on an official form that asked for your religion. This feeling of identification is different for different people.
Some people might feel quite strongly that the Buddha represents their spiritual ideal. For others it will mean that the teachings of the Dharma seem obviously true – the teachings make sense, and the practices work. For some people, it is the intangible “atmosphere” of Buddhism that they connect with. We may just know that Buddhism is the right path for us, with a sort of heart-knowledge, without being able to express our reasons clearly. Others may have a strong response to Buddhist images, such as images of the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, which points to a similar sort of intuitive connection. Whatever your sense of connection to Buddhism feels like to you, if you ‘think of yourself as a Buddhist’ you will be experiencing the beginnings of a Buddhist perspective on life. This will probably include an understanding that your true well-being depends more on positive mental states, a meaningful life, and involvement with the Sangha, than it does on material wealth or consumption.
2. “I am trying to practice the five precepts”
Because Buddhism is a path of practice rather than a creed, there is not much point in just thinking of ourselves as a Buddhist unless we also put the Dharma into practice in our lives. At the most essential and fundamental level, this means moving more and more in the direction of practising the Five Precepts. The Five Precepts represent the fundamental principles of living as a Buddhist, living with kindness, generosity, simplicity, integrity, and awareness. So the most basic test of whether our commitment to Buddhism is genuine is whether we are trying to practise the Precepts.
3. “I feel that the Triratna Buddhist Community is the main context in which I want to deepen my practice”
When we want to get serious about the spiritual life, we need to opt for one particular context, one particular spiritual community, and one particular version of the path, at least for the foreseeable future. You are ready to become a Mitra when you are ready to do this: when you have decided that this is the spiritual community for you and this is the path for you. This does not necessarily mean that you think that this is the only true path, or even that it is the best path for everyone. It simply means that you see it as the best path for you, and the best Sangha for you, as far as you can see.
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?
If you think that you can honestly make the three declarations, your next step is to talk to the relevant Mitra Convenor at your local centre. A Mitra Convenor is an Order Member who has a special responsibility for looking after the Dharmic needs of Mitras at a centre, and for encouraging the health of the Mitra Sangha. The MBC has two Mitra Convenors, one for women and one for men. The MBC welcomes gender diverse people into our Mitra community, and either of the two Mitra Convenors can be contacted to provide further information and support in relation to becoming a Mitra.
Women’s Mitra Convenor – Vimuttinandi
Men’s Mitra Convenor – Apada
The Mitra Convenor will want to meet with you to answer any questions you may have, and to talk over any concerns. They will also want to make sure that you understand the meaning of being a Mitra, and the significance of the Three Declarations. When you are sure that you want to become a Mitra, and they are sure that you understand and can genuinely make the three declarations, they will arrange 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.
Becoming a Mitra is marked by a public ceremony and the format of this may differ from centre to centre. Often several people will become Mitras at once. A Mitra ceremony is an important event in the life of a Centre, at which friends, existing Mitras, and Order Members will welcome you into the Mitra Sangha. Many people also invite their friends and family to witness them taking this step, so the event will be made as accessible to non-Buddhists as much as possible.
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 them. 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.