College of Public Preceptors

Chairs' Letter – July 2021

On Sat, 31 July, 2021 - 14:25
punyamala's picture

Dear Order Members and friends,

Ratnadharini has been encouraging the College deputies to write this monthly letter occasionally, so I agreed to take the plunge this month!

July started with an international, online weekend meeting of the College. Since I became a public preceptor in 2015 the College has met twice a year in March and November so it is a new development to meet in the summer. The meeting worked well and I appreciated connecting with the other public preceptors. Due to the opportunities presented by Zoom and Akasajoti’s wizard skills in negotiating time zones, it feels both meaningful and effective to meet in this way, although I hope many of us will be able to meet in person in November. It was also fortuitous for the college to have planned to gather at this time as we were able to start discussing some of the issues arising from the recent case of expulsion of a member of the Order. As result, we have now arranged two Order forums about how to respond to ethical issues in the Order to broaden out the discussion and include the wider Order.

During the weekend Purna led us in some study around the myth of the return journey and the place of Buddha nature in our system of practice which I found stimulating and illuminating. The highlight of the weekend for me was a session in which a few College members shared an object of significance/fascination. This was riveting. In the session I attended, Mahamati shared reflections about Bhante’s last years, using Bhante’s roamer as the focus (a roamer is a walking aid which Bhante used when his mobility deteriorated). Dhammarati’s object was Sangharakshita’s Complete Works which he designed and which symbolise Bhante’s vast mind and incomparable grasp of the Dharma. He included a short and enjoyable explanation of the Sabon typeface used in the Complete works which is based on a fifteenth century typeface. Padmasuri showed us the gorgeous embroidered priest’s stole which her grandmother made for her grandfather who was an Anglican vicar, and finally Jnanavaca gave us a glimpse of his personal shrine which is rich in symbolism and meaning. The session concluded with a beautiful song from Ratnasila. There is such a wealth of talent in the Order and it is lovely when we have the opportunity to share things with each other.

Not long after the College meeting I was off to Taraloka for my first in-person retreat for 9 months. It was a great pleasure to be at Taraloka with 14 other women and to see the newly completed Earth/sky garden outside the shrine room. This landscaping project is a beautiful and significant addition to Taraloka and its design is visionary. It has been crafted and finished to a very high standard.

It was interesting to find myself with strangers and I was initially taken aback to encounter the great variety that exists amongst human beings! It made me realise how narrow my life has become over these last 18 months during which I have only seen people I know well in person ( the 2-D world of Zoom only gives a very limited snapshot of a person). One thing I have come to know much more deeply in the last 18 months is how fundamentally social human beings are as a species. For that to have been eroded and restricted, challenges what it means to be human. I find I am having to re-learn, remember, what and how to relate to other people so I think it took us all a bit longer to settle into the retreat, especially as some people had been living on their own throughout the last 18 months. Since the retreat ended, England is now coming out of the restrictions imposed by covid-19 which provides us all with a challenging set of conditions. I realise that I need kindness and forbearance to negotiate the challenges ahead as well as Amitabha’s discriminating wisdom and, of course, metta.

The theme of the retreat was ritual and the imagination. Ritual is close to my heart and I ever grow in confidence that it is my main practice. My approach is to see it as meditation in action and I aspire to bring a ritual approach to the whole of life. I find when I am participating in ritual, or in a sacred space, I am naturally more aligned to the way things are. Ritual fosters our link to the Transcendental. I would like to see more conversations about ritual and hope we could move towards a shared understanding and framework of the significance of ritual and its place in Triratna. During the retreat, we dwelt ever more deeply in Tara’s realm both in the inner landscape of meditation and the outer landscape of the place, discovering the magic and beauty in the woodlands and encountering the diverse wildlife. The retreat seemed to have a transformative effect on many of the participants.

Talking to a good friend yesterday, I think ritual could help us all in the coming months as we come to terms with the effects of the conditions of covid-19 by creating a context in which we can acknowledge the many, many losses of the last 18 months and also any gains.

Wishing you well and may we all flourish in the Dharma,

Deputy Chair of the College

> See July’s Features from the College

> You can hear more from Punyamala in a recent conversation about her relationship with Sadhana, here from Adhisthana; or read reflections, from 2017, on her experience of being a Dharmacharini and a mother, here.

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