The Amida Order is an group of people with a life long commitment to each other, and to the continuation of Amida-shu. They live their lives following basic Buddhist ethics. The Order consists of both lay and ordained members. The Founder of the Order is Dharmavidya, David Brazier. The Deputy Head is Acharya Susthama.
The Amida Order came into being in the summer of 1998 when three people took bodhisattva vows with Dharmavidya. Initially the intention was not so much to create a new Sangha as to allow those who wished to do so to affirm their commitment to full time Buddhist training in a socially engaged context. Over the intervening years the Sangha has developed and the Order has clarified its orientation and structure and given birth to Amida-shu.
The position now, therefore, is that a religious order exists at the core of Amida-shu and this order has a number of distinctive features:
- The Order embodies complete equality between men and women.
- There are alternative ordination tracks as well as lay membership permitting different lifestyles.
- Options exist for celibate, and non-celibate persons.
- The Order is politically aware and socially engaged.
- It develops individuals and teams.
- It is deeply respectful of its Asian origins, yet as a new foundation has organisational flexibility.
- It has its own code of precepts for ordained members.
The Order consists of members of Amida-shu who have (a) become ordained, or (b) perform important functions, roles, or responsibilities for or within Amida-shu, or have done so in the past. Entry is by invitation. New members are people who are aligned to the Amida-shu vision and whose life accords with basic Buddhist ethics, though it is not a requirement that lay members formally take particular precepts.
The Order affirms the three fundamentals of Amida-shu: the trikaya nature of Buddha, the bombu nature of the adherent and the primacy of nembutsu amongst its religious practices. These points place it within the Pureland tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. From this position of clarity, the Order reaches out in friendship to all branches of Buddhism and beyond to other faith communities in the cause of inter-religious harmony. The religious vision of the head of the Order is in accord with the spiritual instinct of people of many faiths – that there are absolute, spiritual and practical levels to the religious vision that work in harmony together (trikaya); that ordinary people are acceptable as they are (bombu); and that the core religious activity is the heart calling out to the beyond and receiving a response (nembutsu).
The Order is structured in terms of ‘tracks’ and ‘stages’.
There are lay and ordained members. The ordained members live according to a religious rule. Lay members have broad ethical guidelines. Among the ordained there are two ordination tracks.
Those following the ministry track tend to live settled lives developing Dharma activities in their area, performing religious services, and getting socially engaged amidst their local population.
Those following the amitarya track live mobile lives in mutually supportive community more like the traditional Buddhist friar (bhikshu).
Ministers can be married or single and there is no restriction on them entering into relationships, so long as they do so in an ethical way. Married persons can only follow the amitarya track, however, if both members of the couple do so together, or the partner is wholly supportive. Single persons committing to the amitarya life are committing to a celibate lifestyle throughout their initial training of approximately three to four years. These arrangements, which are a distinctive feature of this order, mean that there are ordination routes for all three categories – celibates, married people practising together, and persons married to non-participants.
The Order has a number of functional offices, currently: Head of the Order, Deputy, Secretary, Archivist, Registrar, and Peacemaker. These may be held by lay or ordained members.
Persons who become lay order members or ministers generally begin by becoming members of Amida-shu and engaging fully in its activities over a period of years. If they in due course assume a position of responsibility they may be invited to become a lay order member (mitra) or to become an aspirant. There is no fixed period for aspirancy, but it is usually not less than three years, after completing training it is likely that an aspirant will be invited to ordain as a gankonin. A gankonin is a the first stage of priesthood on the ministry track. Somebody who has worked as a gankonin for a number of years and for whom this work has become their full time occupation may be subsequently ordained as a minister.
Those who aspire to become amitaryas begin by becoming residents at an Amida community and living the life of a trainee. When their intention to ordain has become clear, the trainee will be called a postulant. Postulancy generally lasts about one year. After first ordination this person becomes a novice. Novitiate usually lasts three years before full ordination.
At the time of writing there are four acharyas in the Amida Order. Acharya means teacher. Teaching responsibilities may be assumed by any member of the Order according to circumstance, but special recognition may also be given to persons who have been Order members for an extended period (at least ten years), who function as leading teachers and have disciples within the Order. Three of the acharyas are amitaryas and the other is a minister.
Ordained members of the Order engage in on-going religious formation. This is a training that equips them to carry out the work of the Order, and which, more generally, brings out the best in people, equips them with enhanced life-skills, promotes social sensitivity, brings out leadership potential, deepens fellow feeling and compassion, and enables the members of the Order to work together in creative teams on a great diversity of activities.
Being a member of the Order means devoting one’s life to Dharma work within the frame of Buddhist ethics. It is a life of deep fellowship and mutual support with other Order members that reaches a particular intensity and intimacy. Although the internal structures of the Order may change over time and individuals may change their status within the Order after careful consideration, the commitment to Order membership itself, past initial probationary stages, is intended to be permanent.