Buddhist Voices

50 Years, 50 Voices: Vessantara (Highlights)

On Thu, 31 May, 2018 - 15:00
Satyalila's picture

…there was something which came through Bhante which really was full of Dharma qualities, and that’s what started Triratna…

 Vessantara’s Annals
In 1968 I’m 18, and spend eight months working in clerical jobs, earning money before going to Cambridge University to study English. I’ve adopted a hippie view of the world and spend hours in my friend Les Doyle’s attic bedroom, which is painted black and decorated with silver foil, listening to early Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. I’m reading about eastern religions, but although the ideas of Buddhism are compelling, the books I have access to are dry as dust. 

In 1978 I’m 28, ordained for about 4 years, and have already been Chair of our Brighton Centre. Now I start the year as treasurer of the right livelihood co-operative we have set up in Croydon, South London. I live in Aryatara Community with six others. We operate a common purse system, in which everyone pays in whatever they’ve earned, and I give them all £5 per week pocket money. Later in the year I move to Bethnal Green to help with the final push to finish and open the LBC. I start as an ineffectual labourer, and become a painter, apprenticed to Jyotipala. Between the two of us we paint the whole centre. 

In 1988 I’m 38, living in a small community at Guhyaloka, our Spanish mountain retreat centre. This year I lead my sixth 3-month men’s ordination course (the eighth I’ve been part of the team for). I spend the rest of my time meditating and working on the first draft of Meeting the Buddhas. Conditions are hard in the winter: living in a small plaster hut, no phone, and a Land Rover of pensionable age for getting supplies. However, I’m mostly deeply contented, living much of the time in the world of buddhas, bodhisattvas and tantric deities.

In 1998 I’m 48, and living at Madhyamaloka in Birmingham, I’m Overall Order Convenor, responsible for helping Order members around the world keep in communication and harmony. I’m president of our centres in Birmingham, Brighton and Bristol, and a member of the Preceptors College Council – a group of 13 of us who are taking on Bhante’s responsibilities. In fact, although I’m being helpful in a number of areas, I’m ridiculously busy and my life is out of balance. 

In 2008 I’m now 58. I’ve put down nearly all my responsibilities, although I’ve taken on being private preceptor to 15 men, which is a privilege. I’m living with Vijayamala in Cambridge, but this year we head out to do a 3-year guided intensive meditation retreat, living in a couple of old wooden circus wagons in the Dordogne, France. 
In 2018 I’m 68 in March. I’m back in Cambridge with Vijayamala, spending a lot of time leading retreats for Order members or other experienced meditators, which I find very fulfilling. I feel very fortunate in the life I’ve led. However, I’m aware that time is running out, and who knows how long I have left to practise the Dharma and offer my experience to others. For now, I’m in pretty good health, still going to the gym, running, doing qigong, And I’m still exploring the ‘universe within’ – which is the meaning of the name I was given by Bhante, over 45 years ago.

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