Chairs' Letter – January 2022On Mon, 31 January, 2022 - 17:31
Dear Order members and friends,
A week or so ago we received news of the death, at the age of 95, of Thich Nhat Hanh, founder of the Order of Interbeing and the Plum Village tradition of Engaged Buddhism, and well known for his teachings on mindfulness, peace and ecology. I still have my copy of ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ from 1988, when there were far fewer Dharma publications generally available in the west, and remember how influential it was for many of us. Having experienced the death of our founder just over three years ago I can imagine, to some extent, what it will be like for the Order and community he founded and inspired, and who will be continuing his vision into the future, and send metta. Vishvapani has written an obituary of Thich Nhat Hanh, printed in The Guardian, and a short interview with Suryagupta was also published in another article.
My last letter was written at the end of November last year. In early December, the UK and Ireland women’s Area Order weekend at Adhisthana explored the meaning of our Refuge Tree, continuing on from a talk given by Subhadramati to the International Council at the end of October, with a further talk from Subhadramati and one from Vajratara entitled ‘Critical Ecumenicalism: sitting at the feet of the Gurus with an open heart and a discerning mind’. For many this was their first ‘live’ gathering with other OMs for a couple of years, and worth wearing masks to make it possible.
Later in December, and again in January, I spent time with the heroic Tiratanaloka team as their president. Karunadhi recently stepped into the responsibility of Chair, and the big topic is how to address the growing need for more resources to respond to the numbers of women who have requested ordination (mainly from the UK and Ireland, but also from mainland Europe and often from further afield). Now Subhadramati has left the London Buddhist Centre for a more itinerant lifestyle, she is adding her support to the project.
I enjoyed a few relatively quiet weeks over the holiday period, online as little as possible and following up a thread of study and meditation, sparked off by a conversation with Subhuti; long overdue and deeply nourishing. I was also able to spend a few days with my mother; once over Christmas, when family plans broke down due to Covid restrictions, and again for her 93rd birthday.
I arrived back at Adhisthana in January to much rejoicing, as Lizzie Sparkes – who many of you will know as the main cook at Adhisthana – had been invited on this year’s long Akashavana ordination retreat. The first big event of the year was the meeting of the European Chairs’ Assembly, which Mahamati and I joined on behalf of the College. It was heartening to hear how the UK and European Centres had not only weathered the pandemic, but – thanks to new technology and The Buddhist Centre Online – developed new approaches that will continue to be relevant in the future. There seems to be a discussion brewing about how people making first contact online, might then be able to follow up with ‘in person’ local sangha connections.
Mahamati and I both enjoyed joining sessions during the ECA meeting, and meeting up with various friends. For me it was especially good to spend time with Prasadacarin, Chair of Stockholm Centre, as I am technically still president there in the absence of a replacement and he has become a good friend, and he gave me the pottery bowl he made and had promised for when I do step down! I was also glad to see Dhammamegha, Director of Windhorse Publications, and another long-standing friend; she has worked so hard and effectively to re-establish the viability and vitality of our publishing house. You can read their final report from 2021 here.
Feeling refreshed, and able to start thinking ahead more creatively rather than simply responding to urgent demands and concerns, I’ve been revisiting ideas I’d had when I took on responsibility as College Chair nearly two and a half years ago. In fact I’ve just taken a leap of faith and booked flights to American and Canada in September, and hope to meet with as many Order members as possible as well as attending an east coast preceptors’ gathering. I’m going to be travelling with Aryadrishti, one of the Area Order Convenors and an old friend of mine, and we’re planning some fun along the way. I’m also hoping to visit Ottawa, my birthplace, and see the Fall from a slow train journey.
The past two months have been rich in ordinations, with three at Vijayaloka in Australia in December, welcome to Jinavajra, Sarvadarśin and Khemavajira, and two at Chintamani in Mexico in January, welcome to Aryavadin and Nityamani.
I was delighted that the four new women Indian Public Preceptors were able to conduct their first ordinations at Bordharan this month, with Srimala’s support, which meant 19 new Indian Order members. This is a significant step in our lineage, following on from Karunamaya and Jnanasuri more recently, and also Srimala, Padmasuri, and Ratnasuri in the past. Welcome to Shilavajri, Aryamani, Ojahshri, Maitritara, Vidyasuchi, Shraddhashri, Acalasiri, Shakyavajri, Diparatna, Shubharatna, Vidyadrishti, Shakyashri, Maitreyani, Karunacariya, Shraddhaprabha, Tejahprabha, Shiladharini, Dhairyamati, Virajadharini.
Most recent of all* was the ordination of Chandradarshana, in Birmingham UK. Doreen Wilson would probably have been ordained this summer, but Santavajri stepped in after hearing that Doreen’s health was deteriorating, and conducted her ordination two days later. As Santavajri says in her notice, it was both a joyous and poignant occasion, and I’m so glad everyone involved was able to make this possible.
Sadhu to all new Order members!
* Since writing, a further Ordination has taken place, of Vimoksajyoti at Sudarshanaloka. Sadhu!
> See January’s Features from the College