Chairs' Letter – March 2022On Thu, 31 March, 2022 - 20:31
Dear Order members and friends,
Thanks to Jnanavaca for writing last month’s letter, which came as the war in Ukraine was just beginning. It’s been sobering to watch the devastation of so many lives. I was on a women preceptors’ retreat at Adhisthana as the invasion became a shocking reality to those of us following the news; however others were making the most of being offline, and so it remained in the background until the final day of the retreat.
The theme of the retreat was ‘the dakini as esoteric sangha refuge’ with a keynote talk by Vajratara, an exploration of the four speech precepts by Subhadramati, ‘giving and receiving feedback’ by me, and ‘kulas and the creative mind’ by Santavajri. Having been given my title, I was amazed to discover in the reading material Vajratara had prepared for the retreat, that there actually is a sutta on ‘giving and receiving feedback’. It’s the Codanā Sutta (AN 5.167) translated as Criticising or Reproving, and builds on the more familiar material about skilful / unskilful speech in the Abhaya Sutta. As well as daily Guru Yoga / Bodhicitta practice, we were doing evening rituals based on the five mantras chanted at Bhante’s funeral. It was a delight to be on retreat in person again, with preceptors attending from mainland Europe and even the USA, and others joining online. We took the opportunity for a preview of the Tiratanaloka team’s plans for expansion: Tiratanaloka Unlimited, which we’ll no doubt be hearing more about soon.
Immediately after that retreat was a women’s Area Order weekend, and immediately after that the March College Kulas meeting. The main international College meeting is in November each year, while March is an opportunity for individual Kulas to meet either at Adhisthana or elsewhere, after which the whole College meets for a weekend online. Unfortunately this year’s March meeting clashed with an Order retreat at Shravasti, a men’s ordination retreat in India and women’s ordination retreats in Australia and New Zealand, so we are especially looking forward to the first live College meeting for two years this coming November.
Meeting in our Kulas at Adhisthana, we opened up the evening of the first day to a shrine room acknowledgement of the effect of the war in Ukraine, with Saddhanandi and Saddhaloka introducing an evening that included hearing from Order members in Krakow – where they had just decided to open the Buddhist Centre to refugees – and about a Mitra in Odessa facing the real life dilemma of whether to take up arms or not. Amogharatna closed the evening with a moving period of metta bhavana, for all those caught up in the war. The following evening many of us went to see a preview of the movie ‘Benediction’, about the pacifist poet Siegfried Sassoon.
We also took the opportunity to spend an evening rejoicing in Lokeshvara’s merits, as he steps down after eight years as one of our International Order Convenors. I’ve worked closely with Lokeshvara during that time, initially in the Adhisthana Kula and more recently because there is quite an overlap between his and Aryajaya’s responsibilities and my own as College Chair, and I’ve greatly valued his input and friendship. He cares deeply about our Order and has always brought a spiritual perspective to our discussions, and we gave him a thangka of a mandala, which has been a significant symbol for him in recent years.
We entered the international hybrid College weekend via (for those of us in this part of the world) the rather intense route of a Friday night ‘business’ meeting. However first of all, Akasajoti treated us to a preview of the beautiful webpage she has been creating that brings together for the first time, all the information preceptors are likely to need!
As always, we will need to wait to hear back from those unable to take part to reach final decisions, but I am now able to confirm the appointment of Amala, from near Portsmouth, Maine / Aryaloka, New Hampshire, as a Public Preceptor. This is an especially welcome appointment, as Karunadevi – who has been the only woman Public Preceptor in the USA / Canada for many years – will need to retire from the College at some point. Karunadevi will continue to offer her support to Amala, as will Viradhamma, Sanghadevi, Ashokashri, Parami, and others, including the Area ordination team. There is one more Public Preceptor appointment that I hope to be able to announce soon.
I was personally very sad that after being under considerable strain Yashosagar has decided to take a two-year sabbatical from the College; I have valued his contribution immensely and am glad he feels able to continue as part of the ordination team in India, and very much hope he will be able to return refreshed.
Nagapriya reported back from the International Council steering group, where he and I have been joined by Abhayadana – which means we now have College participation from Mexico, the UK, and India. Nagapriya and I are also involved in an energetic working group initiated by Arthavadin to explore the topic of ‘Triratna growth’. Another working group is focussing on Order ethics and safeguarding, and the Ahimsa Kula has been following up any concerns remaining since the Adhisthana Kula published its report. Vajrashura updated us on the work of Sikkha, focussed recently on the Nature of Mind project initiated by Maitreyabandhu with Adhisthana. The next meeting of the International Council will be a weekend in June exploring ‘a dharmic perspective on social engagement’.
A group of College members have been liaising with the Triratna BIPOC strategy group, and there was encouragement from the rest of the College in response to a presentation of an outline proposal to create additional training to support people of colour.
Ongoing discussion also included the topic of Probation / Suspension / Expulsion, with the recognition that there will sometimes be a need to suspend an Order member following a credible allegation of serious unskillfulness whilst further exploration takes place.
The weekend continued with a roundup from all Kulas in the mornings, followed by discussion of points arising such as succession planning, and more general discussion about the balance needed between online and ‘in person’ engagement for those wishing to deepen their involvement in Triratna. It is clear that more resources are needed to support those of us involved in resolving ethical issues within the Order and Movement.
In the afternoons we were treated to study by Padmavajra, on the theme ‘Love Mode / Power Mode’; and in the evenings Maitreyabandhu again introduced a series of personal contributions, this time hearing from some of us around the theme of ‘Love and Loss’.
Later in the month I took a train for the first time in two years, in order to be at the LBC for a weekend seminar for young women, entitled ‘I want to live a full Dharma life, but…’ Tightly choreographed five minute presentations from a range of Order members, around topics such as motherhood / career / social impact / ordination, were followed by searching questions and further exploration in small groups and across a range of ages and Triratna experience. I also enjoyed hanging out in Samayakula community, trying to remember which bedrooms I’d lived in nearly 40 years ago, and hanging out with Dhammagita in Hyde Park.