Fifty Years, Fifty Voices: Manidhamma (Highlights)On Wed, 8 June, 2022 - 11:25
The impact of Bhante’s visit was so great that I decided to give up my pilot’s career and go for training towards becoming an Order member…
In 1968 I was not yet born in this world. I was born after three years (1971) in a hamlet, Waghnath situated by confluence of the rivers Pus and Ship in central India. My parents were living a life of hardship and poverty, bonded labourers in the prevalent caste based social system of discrimination and exclusion. We were not allowed to walk on main streets of the village. My father inspired by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s speech at Pulgaon decided to move to a small town ‘Aarni’.
For the first time in my life I remember participating in a big procession to celebrate Buddha Jayanti (the Buddha’s ‘Awakening’ or ‘Enlightenment’). A life size bronze statue of Dr Ambedkar was installed and slogans of ‘Jai Bhim’ and ‘Victory to the Great Buddha’ were heard. I made friends and played, went to the Buddhist temple and took part in Pali chanting. My maternal grandmother died at home and I remember breaking the news to my father who was working. It was my first encounter with death.
In 1978 I was enrolled in Marathi primary school at the age of 8. I started to learn Nagari script. Soon after my annual exams we moved to another village where my family bought a piece of land. In this place I learned a lot about nature and made a few life-long friendships. In this village I came in contact with Buddhist and Ambedkarite scholars who had come for a literary seminar. A Buddhist monk gave a copy of the Dhammapada. In 1983 we moved to Pusad and I joined a boarding school. I spent seven years in this town completing my high school education. During school we visited the famous Ajanta Caves, which made a life-long impression on me around Buddhist art and architecture. The first time I came into contact with Triratna was when Lokamitra visited and gave a talk, accompanied by two Mitras at Pusad. I purchased Buddhayan magazine and a Puja book. At the same time I developed an interest in meditation and Buddhism. Lokamitra’s visit was very inspiring and I was looking for the sangha.
In 1988 I was preparing annual board exams which are very important for future studies and for deciding on a career. At the same time I was awarded a scholarship by Ministry of Civil Aviation to go on a pilot’s training course. I moved to Nagpur, joined Nagpur Flying Club, and started taking lessons in flying aeroplanes. In early1990, while waiting for my flying sortie at Nagpur airport, I noticed an advert in the local newspaper about a lecture on Buddhism by Dhammachari Padmavajra. I cycled in the evening and listened to the lecture. Inspired by Padmavajra’s lecture, I started going to events organised by Nagpur Mitras, Dhamma classes run by Vivekaratna, and attended retreats, after which I became a Mitra in 1991. In 1992, Venerable Sangharakshita came to Nagpur on his historic lecture tour. Four of his lectures were in Nagpur during his visit to our community and opening of a library. I first saw him on a train and was deeply impressed by his mindfulness, kindness and overall personality. By this time I had finished pilot’s training course and was about to move to other city for job as co-pilot. The impact of Bhante’s visit was so great that I decided to give up my pilot’s career and go for one year’s training towards becoming an Order member at Pune. I joined the residential community in Pune and started working in team-based ‘Right Livelihood’ social projects run by the Bahujan Hitay trust. After the training I was ordained with 3 American, 1 Australian and 11 Indian brothers at Saddhamma Pradeep Bhaja retreat centre as part of the first International Ordinations in India, after a month-long retreat in November 1994.
After ordination I decided to work for the benefit of others and moved to Hyderabad with two friends Padmavir and Suvirya to set up a centre. For the next five years I worked to spread the Dhamma in Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana State) and ran a home for destitute children. During this period I learned a lot about the Dhamma and received kalyanamitrata (spiritual friendship) from my good friends Bodhisagar, Mahamati, and many senior Order members. I published about 15 books by Venerable Sangharakshita in Telugu, and did restoration work on a dilapidated Vihara to make it a thriving Buddhist Centre: The Jetavan Buddha Vihara. I learned how to use computers, got my driving license for two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles, and received a BA degree from Osmania University. With financial assistance from my brother I built a small cottage for my parents in our native village.
In 1998 I travelled in parts of Andhra Pradesh and organised lecture tours for many Order members, led retreats and officiated Buddhist conversion ceremonies. At the suggestion of my kalyanamitras, I moved to Pune and worked as secretary to Lokamitra and founded The Jambudvipa Trust. During the crucial time of post-Guardian article difficulties [Sangharkashita and Triratna came under heavy criticism in the British media around ethical issues in the past, ed.] in Pune I worked for the sangha despite threats to our life. I was blessed to spend a month with Dhammachari Subhuti during this period. I travelled and visited hundreds of Buddhist caves in costal Maharashtra, and went to north India on my first Buddhist pilgrimage of holy sites with my best friends.
In 2001 went to the UK to study the Dhamma at Vajrakuta Buddhist Study Centre (also known as Dharmavastu) in North Wales on the Sangharakshita Scholarship scheme. I travelled to Italy and explored European art and history, and had a stint teaching meditation and supporting Dhamma classes at the London Buddhist Centre, also working as a webmaster, accountant and bookshop manager while staying in Sukhavati community. In 2004 I started the Dhammaloka Trust at Sarnath, which I visit twice every year. With Dhammachari Bodhisagar I worked at Sarnath for next 15 years: establishing a Centre, publishing Bhante Sangharakshita’s literature in Hindi, and restoring and building the Buddhist Vihara, the Dharmapala Vihara. From 2005 I started visiting Hungary twice every year and spending about a month supporting work among Roma Gypsies while establishing The Jaibhim Network and Dr Ambedkar High School. I moved to Birmingham to join newly started residential Dharmaduta Training course at the Dharmapala College. I was blessed to learn at the feet of a master through opportunities to participate in seminars and Q&A sessions with Venerable Sangharakshita at Madhyamaloka. In November 2007, at the end of the course, I got married to Dr Samantha Langdon from South Wales at Wrexham in a simple ceremony and after a month returned to India on 31st December 2007. Before I my return, I met Venerable Sangharakshita, who very kindly gave me some helpful advice for working in India, and also blessed me by giving me the visualisation practice of Green Tara to do for the rest of my life.
In 2008 I moved to Sarnath to establish a Triratna Centre. Life in Sarnath was very challenging for Samnatha and soon we crash landed in Waghnath at my parents place and then moved to Yavatmal a nearby town. We spent a year there and I joined the local sangha at Yavatmal. At that time my father died of old age. I started organising Buddhist pilgrimages to support financially my new life in India. When Samantha became 4 months pregnant she decided to go to UK for delivery. In January 2009 I became father to a beautiful girl—Leela (meaning: playfulness, the acts of a Bodhisattva). Soon after my return to India, I moved from Yavatmal to Nagpur and incorporated a travel company, Leela Excursions, to run our Buddhist pilgrimages. When I was not travelling I taught at Nagarjuna Training Institute as a volunteer. Soon, I became a trustee of Nagarjuna Training Institute, and helped establish a Buddhist College for graduate studies. To support it financially I incorporated another team-based Right Livelihood business, The Golden Light Foundation. While Leela was one-and-a-half years old, Samantha decided to return to UK for good. So, we separated and after a year divorced. Though we remain good friends and I have kept in contact with Leela. The next few years I spent living on my own. I missed Leela and was often in distress.
Also, at this time I began to experience other human difficulties while at Yavatmal. Loneliness and distress had an effect on my health resulting in an increase in my blood sugar levels, confirming me as a Type 2 diabetic. I distanced myself from Yavatmal despite having started a retreat centre there after receiving in donation a three-acre piece of land in beautiful surroundings for the centre, Sanghabhumi Meditation Centre. Also, I established Pubbaram Vihara in my native village with a special Samadhi Buddha statue brought from Sri Lanka. In 2014, I married Sandhya Narwade in a simple ceremony at Yavatmal. This was an arranged marriage by my family and I started a regime of discipline to reverse my diabetic condition. In 2014 my second daughter Sanghashri was born. In 2017 a team of Order members came forward to develop Bodhgaya and Sarnath centres so I was free of managing activites in Sarnath.
In 2018 I went to an international Order convention at Bodhgaya and led a few Buddhist pilgrimages. I am currently helping to incorporate a new company for our publications in India—Sihanad Foundation. I have totally surrendered to Triratna, to the Three Jewels and am not apprehensive about my future.