I can’t remember the first time I heard about Foundation Programme (FP). Maybe it was about the time I found out that the weekly class I was going to was GP (General Programme). FP was for other people and conducted over two evenings a week. Impossible with all my other commitments! (Although, to be fair, I was often attending for two nights a week anyway.) FP was for people who didn’t have children, a busy life. FP was for people who knew more, who were further down the line. FP had an exam – who would let themselves in for that? FP was too much of a commitment – like getting engaged to someone when all I wanted to do was hang out casually. Impossible!
Over the years, whenever someone mentioned FP I felt a little sheepish. At the time it was happening on a Friday night and Saturday morning which was difficult for me with childcare (also, to be honest, a bit of a ready excuse – not that I needed one – you don’t haveto do FP and many people who have been at the Centre for decades, and who are very committed Buddhists, don’t).
I used to think of FP as a step up from GP – when I saw people who had been coming to the Centre for a shorter time than me going to join the programme, I felt as though I wasn’t doing as well. I felt that I shoulddo it – because other people were or to please my teachers or because it was expected somehow. I also didn’t want to start FP and then not continue with it because I felt I would have failed.
These are all the wrong reasons to do FP.
Here, in my opinion, are some of the right ones – if you want to give FP a go (which finally after six years, I did) then do. It is not scary, the atmosphere is like a particularly warm and friendly GP class with some beginners and some people who have been coming for a while. It is not cliquey. You will get paired with someone at the end of the teaching for discussion – this will be a different person every week. It’s a great way of getting to know people. You will be asked to volunteer if you want to report back – in the same way you are asked to volunteer at a GP class.
Another good reason is to spend time studying and discussing The Joyful Path of Good Fortune, the book we are currently reading in FP, which, for many Buddhists, is the book above all others they would take to their desert island (or meditative cave). Other reasons include deepening your practice, getting to know your fellow students (Sangha) on a deeper level and spending time discussing things with them you just don’t get to discuss at the bus stop, down the pub or even with your nearest and dearest. The two nights a week thing has been fine – to the point that a recent break of five weeks from FP felt like going cold turkey.
And if you don’t like it, you can always leave – and you can come back again, and leave again and come back. Many many people do because of life stuff or for whatever reason.
And as for the exam. You can’t fail it. You don’t get a mark (unless you want it). There is no pressure to do anything but turn up. Like all of Buddhism, you are just joyful and try.