In the mid 1970s, a group of like-minded people in Central Florida began coming together in a small house on the edge of a major metropolitan center. They gathered for intellectual pursuits and social intercourse. This group, many of whom were students at a nearby , large university, but an equal number were “just folks,” would discuss wide-ranging topics from politics, to music, to economics, to social issues to the arts, and to books they would read.
At the same time, there was a group of people from all walks of life, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and various other religious and secular traditions, who had begun mediating together, at this same location, every Saturday evening, and often several evenings during the week. After meditation many would join for a potluck supper, accompanied by often lively discussions on meditation and the philosophical stances and religious doctrines associated with meditation. Many of these folks would attend the Saturday morning gatherings as well.
Over time a core group of Saturday morning “regulars” developed, about 40 in number, and these folks would get together every Saturday for meditation, breakfast, discussion, entertainment and camaraderie. After some months they adopted the name, “The Saturday Morning, Ten A.M., Breakfast Club, Book Review, Musicale and Desultory Topic Society,” and began inviting authors, composers, professors, musicians, artists, and others of that ilk to come for a presentation and discussion.
About a dozen members of this group strongly identified with one of several schools of Buddhism: Japanese Zen, Chinese Pure-Land, Tibetan Vajrayāna, Thai Forest Tradition, Vipassana Buddhism and the Theravāda tradition. Over the course of many months, these Buddhists, some continuing with the Saturday morning group, others not, begin to meet separately for meditation and discussion focused on Buddhism. After much investigation, study, reflection and discussion into the teachings of the various schools, accompanied by daily, disciplined meditation, this group found themselves focusing on the Noble Eightfold Path (Pali: Ariya Attangika Magga) as the basis for their practice. They found the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path to be a Discipline which informed their day to day and moment to moment lives; a Discipline which led to moral, intellectual and character development, and which resulted in the transformation recorded in the long history of Buddhism.
This group of diverse Buddhists became unified in a strong desire to share the doctrine and practice of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path with others. Over time they recognized certain tendencies within their group, certain patterns, and they concluded they should formalize their association. They drew up a constitution and elected officers, and made plans for the future.
They selected the name, “Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society” to reflect their roots in both The Saturday Morning, Ten A.M., Breakfast Club, Book Review, Musicale and Desultory Topic Society, and in the various traditions of Buddhism, their emphasis on the Noble Path, and their mission to share the Doctrine and Practice with the world.
The founding mothers and fathers of the Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society made the deliberate decision to dispense with all asceticism and austerity, outdated monastic disciplines, and the multifarious “orthodox” explanations and interpretations of the Dhamma, along with the magical and superstitious elements that then dominated Buddhism, both in its institutional and popular forms. They also rejected a purely rational, scholastic, academic approach. They chose to emphasize the primacy of practice and direct experience over ratiocination and book learning, and to affirm the validity and relevancy of the Four Noble Truths in today’s world, and that The Noble Eightfold Path, the path to realization of the Dhamma is as open and relevant today as it was in the Buddha’s time.