Chair's Letter – April 2023On Tue, 2 May, 2023 - 10:57
This month’s update from the College comes from Ratnavyuha – a Public Preceptor living in Auckland, who is not long back from leading an ordination course at Sudarshanaloka. He is one of the Deputy Chairs of the College. Ratnavyuha met Triratna at Aryaloka in North America, and a few years later moved to train for ordination in the UK, working at Windhorse Trading, and being ordained at Guhyaloka in 1999. In 2004 he moved to Oceania where he has been based ever since, contributing over this time to city centre and retreat centre projects in Australia and New Zealand.
Kia ora koutou. A big hello to everyone on the various sides of this planet we inhabit.
I’m writing this monthly College newsletter from Aotearoa (known in English as New Zealand) and thereby giving Ratnadharini a breather.
In case you are not aware, loosely speaking New Zealand is in dark when the UK is in light, in winter when the United States and Mexico are in summer, our water spins in the opposite direction to the northern hemisphere when it goes down the drain, and our truly magnificient midnight sky has different stars from the northern hemisphere since above us is the galactic centre of the Milky Way, albeit impermanently so. There are more significant differences, for example Aotearoa is a biculture nation by treaty where more people are learning to speak te reo Māori. It is becoming more common for new people attending our centres to at least start by speaking briefly in te reo Māori when introducing themselves rather than speaking only English.
Maitreyi is here are the moment, visiting our area and leading a series of retreats for women. We were going to take the opportunity to gather as many of our public preceptors together for a few days at Sudarshanaloka. There were a few things we had to talk about, and undoubtedly we would have discussed ordination training in our area, but I was most looking forward to simply spending time together on retreat. Unfortunately, a few public preceptors caught covid on the retreat prior to our time together, they were in isolation at Sudarshanaloka, and we had to scrap our retreat plans. We’ve had two College events cancelled in our area due to covid. The first being a month long visit and area preceptor’s retreat with Saddhaloka in early 2021.
We have had our own ‘local’ public preceptors in our area for some time now, particularly in the women’s wing. These days we include: Malini, Maitripala, Megha, Purna, myself, Siladasa, Sudrishti, and Vajrajyoti. Ideally, there would be at least five women and five men, such that we could have two kulas with 5 public preceptors each for making ordination readiness decisions and private preceptor appointments locally. At the moment, when making decisions like these, we include public preceptors from other parts of the world when needed (which works well due to established friendships). Although our ordination training remains traditionally organised by gender, we are discussing amongst ourselves the possibility of holding a non-gendered ordination training event in the coming year which would complement what we already offer.
Recently, Purna and I led a one month ordination retreat at Sudarshanaloka. We were fortunate to have Silaratna and Guhyasiddhi join us on the retreat team as private preceptors, and Moksavira supporting the retreat as a tenzo. Moksavira wanted to show everyone how easy it was to cook a diverse range of great vegan food, so he never repeated a meal and each one was delicious. It worked for me, and I’m making that last push to (joyfully) give up cheese and eggs completely. We worked well together as a team and created a tangible atmosphere of samadhi, sraddha, deepening friendship and transcendental lightning.
It was great to see our retreat centre used for another ordination retreat. The women did it first in March 2022 but we’ve previously sent men interested in longer retreats to Guhyaloka. We did have men interested in that longer retreat this year, but our nominations were too late and there were no spaces available. But it worked out well for us. The residential team living at Sudarshanaloka (currently Dhiraprabha, Guhyavajra, Karunajoti, and Moksavira) said they really appreciated hosting another long ordination retreat. The initial vision for the land, back into the early 1990’s, has always included a goal to regularly hold ordination retreats and perhaps that vision has come into greater focus and growing maturity. Even though our history is shorter, there is no doubt that Sudarshanaloka has a mythic atmosphere, including a similarly magnificent stupa with some of Dhardo Rinpoche’s ashes installed by Bhante, which rivals Guhyaloka’s (perhaps also Akashavana’s.. but I don’t know, never been there).
This one month together was the longest single retreat I’d ever done at Sudarshanaloka, such that I could really unpack my bags, let go of knowing the day of the week and decorate the walls if I wanted. Which Sthiraratna and Silaratna beautifully and literally did in their room! Sudarshanaloka has always felt like another family / sangha home, as does Guhyaloka and Padmaloka for me, but after this time together there, I feel like we all came to know our retreat centre much more intimately as a result. And I could feel a promising future.
There is also a benefit to having three New Zealand men ordained together. I love Guhyaloka, and have spent over 16 months of my life meaningfully there on retreat. However, and to my regret, I’ve not kept in touch with many of the order members from those ordination retreats unless they now live in New Zealand. I am hoping that with these three order members just ordained, by living closer to one another and closer to the team from their retreat, that our momentum of friendship and connection from the retreat together will be more supported. Another contribution to this goal is that we run national Nissaya retreats for men ordained in the last 5 years which focus on the practises of sadhana and chapter. Those retreats seem to be effective and appreciated.
Big thanks to Mahamati for sharing how he has lead the one month Guhyaloka ordination retreats in the past. We took his work, sprinkled in my experiences of the longer four month ordination retreats, pinched some ideas from what our women’s wing has done with their one month ordination retreats here, and added some innovations of our own to put together our final programming. It worked well and we will continue to improve our little iteration.