Chairs' Letter – February 2023On Tue, 28 February, 2023 - 15:27
These letters are published here each month, as well as on preceptorscollege.online, and in Shabda, the Order newsletter, as a means to communicate the ongoing work of the College Chair and updates on current discussions and decisions. Responses are welcomed. You can comment below or write directly to preceptorscollege [at] adhisthana.org.
Maitreyabandhu kindly agreed to write this month’s update from the College. I asked him if he would, as I knew he’d recently been part of the College team for a recent men preceptors’ retreat at Adhisthana (I’m on the women’s one at the moment) and I thought it would be good to hear a different voice for a change. He’s very good at including different voices, and has been the driving force behind the popular evenings during College meetings, when we share our stories and inspiration more personally.
Dear fellow Order Members and friends,
I’ve just come back from the Tate. Maitreyi had asked if I’d take some of the women in her community to look at the Cézannes. We stood in front of The Basket of Apples. The last time Maitreyi and I went a gallery together was the last Tate Cézanne show in 1995, five years after we were ordained. We’d been friends since the mid 1980s. I remembered taking Jnanavaca to that show not long after he’d moved into the community Paramabandhu and I formed above what was then The Wild Cherry. We’d been ecstatic in front of the Large Bather. I’ve lived with Jnanavaca for over 27 years now. We’re currently writing a book about the Four Myths. Maitreyi had to get back to a Zoom call with a women’s GFR group in Newcastle. She left the rest of us with Cézanne’s astonishing apples.
I’d not long got back from the men’s private preceptors retreat at Adhisthana. It was led by the Padmaloka Kula of the College. Surata was there. He led my first retreat back in 1986. Satyaraja has been a close friend since he invited me to be on the team for the four-month Guhyaloka retreat in 2011. Yashodeva has supported most of the LBC’s Winter Retreats, fixing the dishwasher, leading a mantra, making a fire for New Year’s Eve. I’d been on the Guhyaloka team with Vajrashura in 2019. Paramabandhu and I have been living together since 1986. Paramabandhu is now president of five centres, so with one thing and another, we don’t see that much of each other. He bought me the usual cake and coffee at the Bicester Garden Centre on the way up, and we shared a room as always.
One of the highlights of the retreat was the Zoom celebration, hosted by Vajrashura from beside Bhante’s chair. We’ve been running this event for a few years now. We gathered in the shrine room, all of us in robes (well, not quite all of us), to watch, in this case, over 120 men who have asked for ordination Zooming in from all over the world.
We started by introducing some of the private preceptors: Aryabandhu from Berlin, who’ll be ordaining Rainer Pretz from Essen. Arthamitra who’ll be ordaining Morries Leerat from Arnhem, in the Netherlands. Santaka from Warsaw and Krakow. Manjusiha, who’ll be ordaining Warren Davis. It’ll be the first time a black man has ordained another black man within our movement. Manjusiha and Warren are of dual heritage (African/Caribbean and white European).
Before he was ordained, Manjusiha moved into my room in the community above The Wild Cherry. I was away on a sabbatical. He wanted to stay, so we ended up sharing the room, sleeping in our homemade bunkbed and even for a while sharing a computer. It was such a small room, it was difficult for us both to stand up at the same time.
19 out of the 20 men going to Guhyaloka introduced themselves. Jan Strocki, who’d been invited the previous year until the war in Ukraine prevented him going, spoke. Jan’s father is a doctor in Zhytomyr in the north of Ukraine, not far from the Belarusian border. His parents had been living in the corridor of their flat away from the windows in case of bombing. Jan is a good friend of Brad Schwagler from San Francisco. They plan to share a room at Guhyaloka. Patrick who managed the Zoom call along with Max, will also joining us at Guhyaloka.
I’ll be co-leading the Course with Vidyadaka. I first got to know him as a young designer at MTV attending the Wednesday Class at the LBC. I was to become his private preceptor, as I was to Manjusiha. Vidyadaka will be privately ordaining Michael Curtis and Claudio Gigi. Michael’s mother was raised in a forester’s farmhouse in the Czech countryside. Claudio’s parents were born in Aveiro, the ‘Venice of Portugal’. There is something deeply moving about seeing men you’ve ordained go on to ordain other men.
Before the retreat, I’d been having a WhatsApp conversation with Subhadramati about a fundraiser I’d agreed to lead for Tiratanaloka, a fundraiser that would conclude our Zoom celebration. Subhadramati and I became friends in the 1980s. We were on the team for the Wednesday Class and were often to be seen ‘on the door’ together, holding the dana bowl. We’ve led retreats together, sat in LBC Council Meetings, had countless coffees, and read each other our poetry. She is a true dharma-sister. We are both about to go and lead ordination retreats.
I’d been thinking of Freya and Patrick. They supported the LBC Winter Retreat in 2021. They were wonderful team members, inspired and hard-working despite being thrown in at the deep end. And they were both nineteen! Freya is a medical student, Patrick was at law school before coming to work at the LBC. Now they have both asked for ordination. ‘Wouldn’t it be wrong, unfair, unjust’, I said in my fundraiser, ‘if Freya took longer to get ordained simply because she couldn’t get on retreat at Tiratanaloka?’ ‘I’ve been going to Padmaloka’, I said, ‘for 35 years. Just think what it would have meant if Padmaloka had only been big enough to accommodate 25 people?’
We raised over £12,500. I asked the men on zoom to write how much they were donating in the chat. It was a real treat seeing the sums of money whizzing by. Meanwhile the private preceptors made pledges.
But the journey to Adhisthana was painful. Until now, I’d make sure to see my mother when I went to Adhisthana (we drove past the turning for my home town, Henley-in-Arden). My sister would bring her or I’d go and see her afterwards. At the last College Meeting I took two days off to stay with her. I wish I’d taken longer. She died at 6.55pm on 17th December: the 27th anniversary of my father’s death.
When I got back from Adhisthana, Dharmavartin invited me for a meal at his home in Romford. I’d ordained him the previous autumn. Dharmavartin is a retired fire-fighter. His wife, Pippa is a surgical assistant. Two of their three sons joined us for supper. Matthew has a four-year old daughter and works as a petrol tanker driver (he was due to start work at 4am the next day). Robert is a scaffolder and starts work at 6.30am. There was something, I don’t know, magical about the evening. Dharmavartin and I dedicated his shed in the garden to Milarepa. But what moved me most was the gift Pippa gave me before I left. She’d made me a picture of butterflies in coloured felt and written a card thanking me for support. Dharmavartin gave me a lift back to Romford to catch my train home.
I suppose why I’m saying all this, reiterating all these names and all these places, is just to affirm, in my own small way, the web of friendships that is the life of our order and movement. Subhadramati and Freya, Jan and Brad, Maitreyi and I. The list could go on and on, reaching out across time, across the world, connecting us all.
As, one by one, we make our own commitment,
An ever-widening circle, the Sangha grows.