50 Years, 50 Voices: Amarapushpa and ChandrasiddhiOn Thu, 10 May, 2018 - 15:00
I had been looking for so long. And then I saw my first woman Order Member. And that was like the ‘fourth sight’… that inspired me to go for refuge.
It’s not something that has to do with ideas and concepts… It’s about more practical wholeness, with your heart.
N.B. Grabación en inglés y español / Recording in English and Spanish
Listen to the whole conversation with Amarapushpa and Chandrasiddhi—and subscribe to the Buddhist Voices podcast for more full-length recordings from Fifty Years, Fifty Voices.
In 1968 I was 15 and living in a very turbulent USA just outside New York City. I was very idealistic and didn’t feel I fit in to American high school or society. I loved Spain and Spanish and was later to obtain a degree in Spanish. Disillusioned with the Catholic Church, I turned to the great movements of the time as an outlet for idealism: the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Vietnam War protests. That year I was deeply affected by the assassination of Robert Kennedy. It seemed as if all my heroes (previously JFK, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X) had been destined to be shot down in my country. It got more painful every time. Robert Kennedy’s assassination was the most painful, coming at the end of the loss of all those heroes. I was later to channel that idealism into a pursuit of social justice through obtaining a law degree.
In 1978 I was 25 and had just graduated from a New York law school and passed the New York State Bar exam after a long hard slog of study. I didn’t feel I fit in to the lawyer culture but becoming a lawyer not only realised the dreams of my immigrant Italian mother and grandmother, met some rising feminist ideals and also seemed to pave the way to more effectively bring about social change and equality. My first job was with a private firm but I had my eye on working in poverty law and was delighted to be offered a job representing underprivileged children and juveniles in the very poverty stricken and violent South Bronx which I started the following year. I often used my Spanish skills in this job as many of my clients came from Latin America.
In 1988 I was 35 and ready for a change. I had worked for the Legal Aid Society in New York City in different capacities. This included working in an appeals unit. That year I was continuing to co-manage a large office of lawyers based at the Brooklyn Family Court, one of the busiest courts in the country.
Confused and disillusioned by the ethics involved in managing many of my cases and feeling like a fish out of water with other lawyers, I had been seeking spiritually for quite some time. I nearly joined a yoga ashram in Massachusetts. I also tried other different spiritual paths and methods. I had been meditating on my own for a couple years after learning to meditate with a Tibetan Buddhist group. I had also devised my own daily spiritual rituals including a “Gratitude” ritual. During these rituals, I often found myself bowing while touching my hands to forehead, mouth and heart. I was amazed to later see Triratna Buddhists doing the same, never having seen that gesture anywhere before.
Towards the end of that year, I got back together with an English boyfriend I had been involved with six years before. We got married the following year and moved to London in 1990.
In 1998 I had been seriously involved with Triratna in London for several years. I had asked for ordination the year before. My marriage had broken down quite disastrously a few years before. Meditation had kept me stable through some very turbulent times and once free of the marriage I sought further meditation instruction at Triratna classes in Clapham. I soon realised that Triratna’s approach to Buddhism was what I’d been looking for for a very long time.
By 1988 I had cut down my working commitments in order to have more time for spiritual practice. I was working part time as a solicitor for a local authority in the child protection area and was living with a non-Buddhist friend in a very pleasant area of London. However, the simplicity and intensity of total immersion in the Dharma through what was then known as the three C’s: community, co-op (team based right livelihood) and Centre seemed to keep calling out to me.
Two years later, I joined a Women’s Team Based Right Livelihood business, (formerly known as “The Wholefood Shop”) based at the Croydon Buddhist Centre and moved into the shop team community. I worked full time in the shop and lived in communities for six years.
Around that time I also became friends with Ratnachuda, who I was later to marry.
In 2008 a crisis in my family in New York had caused me to leave the shop two years before and find a new way to support myself. I didn’t want to return to the law so instead went back to my old love of foreign culture and language by qualifying to teach English as a second language. Through it I seemed to reconnect with an immigrant myth that ran through my family. I found the work very rewarding.
By 2008, my family had been going through an intense period of old age sickness and death for a couple of years: my mother had been ill with stroke, and severe dementia for several years, my father had suffered a terrible fall and had died the year before after months of trying to find him adequate treatment, a brother dependent on my parents and prone to seizures had suffered a brain haemorrhage and had been in intensive care, my nephew had very serious cancer and my niece hospitalised with serious anorexia. Having lived in the USA for a year and a half, I was now making my base at Ratnachuda’s with frequent stays in New York. I started teaching at Brixton Triratna, a descendant of the Clapham classes, while continuing to teach English in different situations,
I had been ordained for four years. Being able to tap into Order weekends and events was a great support during this time as were Ratnachuda, my very dear sister and spiritual friends. Underlying it all, was faith in the Dharma which helped me stay mostly buoyant, positive and supportive of family through a very sad period of witnessing the suffering of people I dearly loved and the breakdown of a family structure that had been the support of so many people for many years.
In 2018 I feel in the midst of a very happy, fulfilling and stable period that started in 2012 with the death of my mother. Sad as it was, it also marked a freeing up of holding family crisis and living between two countries. My niece and nephew’s health improved around that time and my brother’s situation became more stable. My mother had left me some money and I decided to take a break. I quit my job teaching English with Westminster Adult Education in order to have space and see what arose in terms of what next. To my great surprise a strong message arose almost immediately: “become Women’s Mitra Convenor in Croydon”. I hadn’t been thinking of doing that at all. However, when it had sunk in, I felt happy about it. I’d had some very spiritually significant experiences during my involvement there, had made some significant spiritual friends and there definitely was a need. There hadn’t been a woman’s Mitra Convenor in Croydon for well over a year.
I continued to be very involved in supporting the Brixton sangha as well. I love serving both sanghas as best I can. I also enjoy serving Mitra Convening generally through being on the Executive of the increasingly international Women’s Mitra Convenors Gathering.
The blessings of having found Triratna and through it, the Dharma, seem to increase through time. Having just come back from my first pilgrimage in India, I understand more deeply the achievements of my teacher, Bhante Sangharakshita and the precious gifts he’s given. Words can’t express my great debt of gratitude. I bow down.
In 1968 - not born yet
In 1978 - not born yet
In 1988 - I was born
In 1998 From my childhood I was a very tranquil girl, like to contemplate, love the animals, actually wanted to be a Veterinarian. Had low self-esteem cause I felt different from the rest of the kids at school, felt myself very serious in comparison. And important thing is that I got in shock when I discover a movie from my mother about the prophecies of Nostradamus and watch it with my brother and our nanny, it was a painful and terrific experience, it didn’t was just about prophecies of the past but as well of the future, mainly related with catastrophies; I realise that the end of the world was my greatest fear.
In 2008 I discover the Buddhism in 2005, my first contact was in a retreat leaded by Dh. Upekshamati, when I got in touch with the life of the Buddha I felt so understanded with the vision he had about suffering, and his quest to find the end of it; knowing that with enlightenment, we can reach the end of the suffering I got in wholeheartedly in love with buddhism; the answer to the biggest fear I had was simple, just realise about the nature of thing and existence in life, open our hearts to it. I was a Flamenco dancer, was studying philosophy at University, It was strange for me trying to unite in an harmonious way the logics of the western philosophy with the eastern way of the Buddhist philosophy I had already practicing. Met one of the sides of the coin of violence with a partner I had at that time, he liked everything related with terror and fear, for me he was a teacher of the darkness, a way to start to understand the total of the possibilities in life and to bring that as well in my practice. I separate myself a bit from the Buddhism and the centre, due my studies and my necessity to feel samsara while I was at university.
In 2018 I realise that the samsara was not made for me, the Buddhism was not just and answer but a way of life, after I got my degree and also got my master in education, I had the dream to put myself all the dharmachari conditions I needed to keep my Going for refuge, and decided to ask to enter the process. Started another relationship with a lovely gentleman that, though is not Buddhist, support me in every step of my practice and actually encourage me to keep going, he can tell how happy I am, I feel very fortunate.
Started to be deeply in contact with the Sangha, made wonderful dharma sister in my country and around the world, had the gift to be in the 2016 DLC for young women in Adhisthana, my faith, love, commitment for the three Jewels was clear in my heart, mind, and acts more than ever. Feel bless to be in this path.
Got Ordained on April 23 in 2017, with other six women. For me was a dream came true being ordained in Mexico by a Mexican private preceptor, Dayachandra. Had lovely Parami as my Public preceptor. This has a lot of meaning to me, a new door was open to keep going with the vision of our beloved teacher Sangharakshita,for the sake of the mitras and GFR mexican women, the sake of the mexican Sangha and of course, the sake of all beings.
Finally blessed to have the opportunity to be at the 50th year celebration and Convention In India. What I have done to receive such auspicios experience? Just very grateful.