Chair's Letter – July 2023 – MahamatiOn Tue, 1 August, 2023 - 17:48
This month’s update from the College is a bumper edition before we take a break in August…
Recently the Ordination courses at Guhyaloka and Akashavana were completed, led by Maitreyabandhu and Subhadramati respectively; and the College-led ‘Lineage Retreat’ at Adhisthana was a great success, for which Mahamati was on the team. We wanted to share something from each of these aspects of the College’s work, and asked Subhadramati and Mahamati to write more fully.
I will be taking part in a few events at Adhisthana in August: attending a 10th anniversary event for ‘Communities Past and Present’ and the Combined Area Order weekend, and giving a talk on ’The Essence of Zen’ at the Sub35 Festival retreat. We’re also starting to plan the International College meeting in November, which will mark the beginning of the final year of my term and include a process to appoint the next College Chair.
Dear Order members and Friends,
Ratnadharini asked me if I’d like to write for this month’s letter: “it would be good have a different voice after all the coverage of the pilgrimage”, she wrote. I am more than happy to write to you all, as another voice from the College, one of 49 active public preceptors around the world.
I found Ratnadharini’s long walk, and in particular her daily video blogs, so inspiring. I enjoyed the expressions of delight and appreciation from the Just Giving fundraising page.
The pilgrimage ended at Adhisthana on the day that the European Chairs Assembly (ECA) started their biennial meeting. Ratnadharini and myself usually attend these meetings so as to make an ongoing connection between the ECA and the College. I wasn’t able to attend much of the programme this time, but I drove over from the other side of the Malvern Hills (five miles by car) to meet up with several friends. One evening Ratnadharini and I were invited to meet with the team who form the ‘Chairs Exec’, and to hear about some of the challenges, as well as new initiatives, being discussed during the week. Over the last couple of years the Chairs have been exploring their role through the lens of the four archetypes: Lover, Magician, Warrior and Monarch. At this meeting, Ratnaprabha, Chair of the North London Buddhist Centre, gave the final talk on ‘Chair as Monarch’ - well worth a listen or view
Immediately following this, there was a special event which I was glad to attend, part of Adhisthana’s tenth anniversary celebrations: a week long ‘Celebration of Lineage’. Early in the year invitations had gone out from Ratnadharini to Chairs, Preceptors, Mitra Convenors, Order Convenors and Presidents: “This is a significant opportunity….for this group of people, at this time, in this place, to gather together on the basis of our shared commitment to each other and our community, with appreciation for and confidence in all we have received from Bhante as founder of our lineage, and with a vision to pass on the flame. Those invited on this retreat play a particular part in bearing our lineage and taking care of ‘that rather mysterious, indefinable spirit that gives the movement life and energy’”. The event booked up fast and the retreat was more or less full.
Over six full days the programme moved through Guru, Yidam and Dakini, the three ‘esoteric refuges’, with keynote talks from Jnanavaca, Dhammadinna and Saraha, there were also fascinating short talks, and two-way and three-way podium discussions, on each theme; in the afternoon there were led practices of the Mula Yogas which Bhante had taken up in Kalimpong in 1962; and in the evening circumambulation of the burial mound followed by puja in connection with the figures of the five mantras chanted at Bhante’s funeral: Shakyamuni, Manjushri, Padmasambhava, Green Tara and Amitabha. The programme had been lovingly created and organised primarily by Akasajoti, the much appreciated assistant to Ratnadharini and to the College as a whole. The talks and panels are available for Order Members here on The Buddhist Centre Online.
One of the many highlights was a ‘Blazing Light’ Puja led by Prakasha on the evening of the first full day, when the more than life sized image of Padmasambhava, generously donated to Adhisthana by Prakasha and Srisambhava, and earlier in the year installed in the Sangharakshita Library atrium, was brought to the main shrine-room. This impressive image was to stay there for the period of our retreat, at the far end of the shrine-room facing the permanent shrine with the Buddha. Not surprisingly, Padmasambhava’s presence was strongly present in the following days. Padmasambhava is the principal archetypal guru of the Vajrayana, and Manjushri is the archetypal guru of the Mahayana. Both these figures were of course of great importance to Bhante Sangharakshita and through him they are of great importance to Triratna. A couple of days later I had the honour to lead a Puja dedicated to Manjushri. We recited in call and response the sadhana text received by Bhante from Jamyang Khyentse Rimpoche in October 1957. I had the immense good fortune to receive this sadhana from Bhante at my ordination in July 1977, and then to attend a seminar with him on the sadhana in October that same year. The sadhana text begins: “A Cloud of Worship pleasing to the Protector Manjushri: Being the way to practise the Profound Stuti-sadhana of the Holy Manjughosha”. The Puja took place on the full moon day of Dharma Day, and “A Cloud of Worship” truly seemed to be present on that Monday evening at Adhisthana.
One of the pleasures of the Lineage retreat was the attendance by a number of Order members from outside the UK, from New Zealand, North America and Mainland Europe. My work as a Public Preceptor takes me regularly outside the UK to the ‘Low Countries’ - Belgium and the Netherlands - where I work with a local men’s ordination training team. I am delighted that this year Arthamati from Arnhem, in the Netherlands, was ordained at the three month Guhyaloka course recently completed, along with sixteen other new Dharmacharis. The men’s College ‘Kula’ which I am part of includes our three men Public Preceptors in Australia and New Zealand - Purna, Siladasa and Ratnavyuha - and later in August I will be visiting Australia to support a Going for Refuge retreat there. The internationalism of Triratna has always inspired me, as I know it does many of us.
Finally, Ashvajit, who was ordained in 1972, so one of our earliest Order members, died on 21st July. His very active Order life over these years took him to New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, Berlin and most recently Mexico. In earlier days he was on the Ordination Team at Padmaloka and is Private Preceptor to many. In Bhante’s later years, Ashvajit acted as secretary and companion. For the last five months he was looked after in a care home in Llanidloes, mid-Wales. As one of his close friends, in February 2022 I went to Mexico, where Ashvajit had been living for six months of the year, to help his partner, Manjugita, support him, after he had a fall leading to a serious brain haemorrhage. Many of Ashvajit’s friends have been very supportive to him in various ways since that time. He recovered well enough to live last summer fairly independently in his cottage in Wales, but by the autumn he succumbed to cancer. When I asked Ashvajit how he felt about dying he said: “Only Gratitude”. When I asked him if he felt there was more that he needed to do, he said “No”. Even when hardly able to speak and fully bed-ridden, there is nothing that seemed to make him happier than chanting the refuges and precepts or hearing Dharma texts, especially those written by Bhante. His funeral will be held on 9th August at Adhisthana and in a nearby crematorium. More information for attending in person or online is linked to here.
Mahamati met Triratna in 1976 and was ordained in less than a year, aged 22. He has served our Order and community in many ways, including as International Order Convenor, and working closely with Sangharakshita. He lives in Malvern, nearby Adhisthana, with Kalyanaprabha. He is Chair of Urgyen Sangharakshita Trust.
Hear more from Mahamati in a talk titled ‘The Many Blessings of Sadhana’ given in 2018. “Among our many gifts from Bhante is sadhana. Sadhana can encompass our whole Dharma life. It can be a doorway into a world of meaning and mystery, insight and magic.”