Chairs' Letter – December 2020On Tue, 29 December, 2020 - 13:25
Dear Order Members and friends,
Ratnadharini has been writing these monthly letters for about a year now, and recently asked if those of us serving as College deputies would like to write one from time to time. I’m the first to take up this opportunity.
At the start of the pandemic, Ratnadharini started meeting weekly with her College deputies as a way of keeping in touch together with what was happening in the world and in the movement. As time went on, we reduced this to meeting fortnightly. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Ratnadharini and the other deputies better over this time.
In fact, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know all the members of the College better since I joined in early 2018. Particularly those I’ve had little or no past contact with simply because our paths had not yet crossed. And for me, I always enjoy the way that Order members I’ve never met before can feel very familiar.
When I moved to Cambridge from Aryaloka in 1996 as a GFR mitra, it was with such a feeling of welcome familiarity that I began to make new friends with the many people who had arrived from all around the world to work at Windhorse Trading. We came from different countries, had different levels of schooling, different economic/political upbringings, and some of us (although not myself) had to learn to speak a new language when we arrived. But we already shared the language of Bhante’s understanding of the Dharma, the common practises of Triratna, and we frequently benefited from friends of friends who provided us friendship themselves. When people would ask me what it was like to live in the UK, I would have to be honest and contend that I didn’t know. Why? Because my life was not so much living in the UK as it was living within what was then the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. And, it was a meaningful, challenging, rewarding, living with like-minded people which could have been anywhere in the world.
In 2004 I’d been ordained for a little less than five years and chose to follow a muse to Sydney. Arriving with an expectation of what continuity, shared practice and shared language might look like, what I found instead were some particularly warm and rewarding Dharma friendships and a very different lifestyle. The following years were some of the most difficult and some of the most dharmically rewarding years of my life, I struggled and I changed. There was a golden thread running through the whole, and as Stafford says in one of his poems “It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.” Somewhere, within me, I knew we were all of one weave even when my eyes struggled to see the unifying pattern.
Now I live in Aotearoa (“land of the long white cloud”, also know as New Zealand) and hope that if you were to visit, you would recognize something of yourself in our younger Order members and that they would feel something of themselves in you. And yet, I would also hope you’d realise you were no longer in the midst of your local sangha. It would be both the same and still uniquely itself.
One of the initiatives of the past few years within the College has been our Kula Reps meetings. The Kula Reps are (potentially) one female and one male public preceptor from each of the different areas (UK/Ireland, India, Mainland Europe, Latin America, North America, Australia/New Zealand). We’ve been meeting every 3-4 months over this past year. When we meet, we share information across the areas with respect to ordination training and private precepting: we initiate improvements, collaborate creatively, share training resources, and try to form a greater appreciation of the internationality of our Order. The shared dharma language we use, a recognition of internationality/uniqueness, valuing everyone’s contributions, and an honest appraisal of the past/present/future are all significant facets of this greater dynamic we call the Order.
One of the more exciting initiatives that the Kula Reps worked on this past year is a re-working of the guidelines around readiness for Ordination. These guidelines have never been a definitive check list, but rather different threads for personal reflection when considering someone’s readiness. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (to borrow that frame) and yet we share something very significant in common also. Nagapriya proposed an update to the previous guidelines which was discussed and then circulated for comment within the wider College. Sudrishti edited an alternative version for GFR mitras to use in their personal reflections. Both of these documents are being circulated now among the private preceptors and made available to Order members in general. We find them helpful and hope you will also.
As from the beginning of my involvement with Triratna it has always felt significant to me that when I’ve joined in with other sanghas through their centres or on retreat, even though I may never have met a single person before, that the most important things which make Triratna, Triratna, are there to be seen and felt. And yet, I would also find it sad if the obvious variations of space and time did not provide a welcome uniqueness.
Here in Aotearoa, we are not currently in any covid lock down, it is our summer holidays, the strawberries and cherries are in season, and everyone is taking a much needed break from what has been a crazy year. Wherever you are, however this finds you, I wish you well.
You can hear more from Ratnavyuha in a talk he gave on a men’s Order weekend in 2019 on Bhante as Teacher of the Sravakayana; or in conversation with Punyamala, one of the other College Deputies, as a part of the Buddha Day celebrations earlier this year.
View December’s Features from the College here.