Chairs' Letter – January 2023On Tue, 31 January, 2023 - 22:56
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.
Dear Order members and friends,
I made the most of the lull in emails over the festive season, and spent a quiet couple of weeks in front of the wood burning stove in my house in Wales. It was good not to be staring at a laptop screen all day, and enjoyable to get engrossed in a couple of books: ‘The Promise of a Sacred World’ by Nagapriya, and ‘Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation’ by Anālayo. I always appreciate Nagapriya’s writing, and as well as contextualising the True Pure Land tradition, he makes a convincing argument in support of the subtlety and transcendent power of Shinran’s approach to the spiritual life – as well as addressing several of my recurring personal koans. From Anālayo’s book I was especially struck by his clarification that compassion is a positive wish to alleviate suffering, rather than simply experiencing the same suffering as another, and that in the early scriptures this typically takes the form of a dharmic response.
I also spent time with family, including celebrating my mother’s 94th birthday; rediscovered Scottish country dancing after a three year covid break; and ventured out into kayaking on beginners level white water, in spite of various bumps and bruises.
Back at Adhisthana in the New Year, Mahamati and I joined in with the ECA (European Chairs Assembly) meeting. I gave an update on some adjustments to College working arrangements (which are reviewed and updated regularly) in relation to probation / suspension / ‘expulsion’ (being recognised to have put oneself outside the Order), to keep them in line with our experience of carrying out our responsibilities and having listened to comments from Order members about how that can be improved. In summary, the changes are as follows:
- The creation of the new category of ‘suspension pending further exploration’ which would be applied in the case of a serious ethical breach or credible allegations of such, or while a police investigation takes place.
- The institution of a kula of a minimum of five public preceptors to make decisions involving probation/suspension/‘expulsion’, in line with the kula of five required for decisions regarding ordination. Where possible this would be the Area College Kula and include the individual in question’s public preceptor.
- Previously we stated that ‘those Order members who know the person, especially in their chapter and region, will also need to be consulted and to support the action’. This is amended to state that ‘whilst a wider consultation in the Order among those who know the person, especially in their chapter and region, will always be desirable, there are circumstances where this is not possible.’
- Previously we stated that a suspension or probation required a clearly defined period of time; we have amended this to state that it ‘should include a clearly defined period for review, with clear goals about what needs to be resolved’. i.e. the period for review is defined, rather than the period of suspension; to ensure the suspension period is flexible according to a framework of change and transformation rather than a defined penalty, whilst ensuring it doesn’t proceed indefinitely.
As we also now have consensus within the College on points of principle which would give us an agreed framework within which it might be possible to consider the ordination of former serious offenders, I was also able to share a draft list of points with the ECA. As I said in my November update:
‘… it is not surprising that strong views have been expressed on both sides of the debate. Broadly speaking, on one side is the wish to recognise the potential for any individual to transform their life, and to support that; on the other side is the concern not to underestimate the resources needed, nor the potential effect on individual Order members or the Order in general. This is an important discussion for our Order, especially given the work some Order members are doing with people currently in prison… We also need to be more explicit in defining what constitutes a ‘serious offence’, and to consider whether some offences are so serious as to rule out the possibility of ordination… this is a continuing discussion and one that we will share more widely with the Order.’
Apart from a couple of minor suggestions, there appeared to be broad support for the document from those present, and we will look for ways to create more forums for Order discussion.
I also encouraged the Chairs to book for the celebratory ‘Lineage and the Esoteric Refuges’ retreat for preceptors, presidents, chairs, Order & mitra convenors, 30 June - 7 July, that is part of the Adhisthana 10th anniversary events – and fast booking up!
I then spent a few enjoyable days, as president, with the Tiratanaloka community. As well as devoting time to the vital Tiratanaloka Unlimited fundraising and property search which will enable many more women to access training for ordination, we performed a ceremony asking the local devas to free us up from the current site – which has borne witness to so much transformation and holds so many significant memories. I also led a morning of study on a couple of passages from the Chapter on Ethics from Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi, which I was pleased to revisit as there is a strong correspondence between the description of taking the bodhisattva vow, and our own ordination ceremony.
Then back to Adhisthana for an evening gathering of all 15 Order members on site, before heading into full community days. The theme of the four days was ‘blessings’, with Saddhaloka leading study on the Mangala Sutta and making a connection between the ‘blessings’ / ‘auspicious signs’ of the text and the meaning of adhiṣṭhāna. We were treated to life stories from six new community members, five of whom have arrived since the beginning of the year. Khemabandhu shared his experience as Chair of Adhisthana, and there were short reports from each of the significant elements of the residential Adhisthana mandala. We spent a day in our separate communities, and another day exploring the ‘single-sex idea or practice’, beginning with short talks from Sanghadeva and Shubhavyuha. My impression is that the community has really matured, and is in a strong position as we move into the tenth anniversary year.
Looking back over the last two months… I was sorry to lose one of our International Order Convenors, and community members, when Saraha needed to step down so soon after being appointed in order to look after his mother following the death of his father. I had appreciated getting to know Saraha, and wish him well as he continues to fulfil his dedication to be of service to others, in whatever way he best can.
I was relieved that we finally created the role of International Movement Coordinator, as I’ve been reflecting for some time that it was extraordinary not to have anyone with the explicit responsibility to liaise between our many international Centres. I’m delighted that Jnanadhara has been appointed to take up the position; he’s been involved with the International Council for many years, as Chair of Dublin Centre, and I’ve got to know and appreciate him as a member of the Steering Group.
I’m aware of the deaths over the past two months of Dayabandhu, Moksacitta, Bodhishura, Vajrasuri and most recently Dharmavajri. I knew Moksacitta, Vajrasuri and Dharmavajri personally – particularly Vajrasuri, who was on my ordination retreat, and Dharmavajri who I ordained publicly – and the many accounts of how Order members respond to the existential challenge of death, is a great inspiration.
Sadhu to four new Order members: Akshayadipa, in Cambridge; Dayaketu, Suvarnakirti and Danamuktin, in Mexico. It was great to have seen a little of Suvarnakirti, as he attended the last Dharma Life Course at Adhisthana.