Chair's Letter – March 2023On Fri, 31 March, 2023 - 12:02
Dear Order members and friends,
Thanks to Maitreyabandhu for the evocative account of our network of friendships last month.
First I’ll write with an update from the March College meeting – and end with a personal request.
At that point last month, I was involved in our annual Women Preceptors’ retreat at Adhisthana, which gets better each year as the body of experience grows and the connections between us become stronger. We’d decided to make it an ‘in person’ event, while making the study material available to preceptors elsewhere, and appreciated the fact that of the 70 or so of us present, preceptors had come not just from Europe but also from the US. We were following the theme of lineage, and the opening talk, Vajratara on ‘The Preceptor as the Navigator of Myth’, is available more generally.
The tenth anniversary of Bhante’s arrival at Adhisthana fell during that retreat; that very same day, ten years later, Padmasambhava arrived and we all turned out to welcome him. Prakasha and Srisambhava had very generously offered their stunning Padmasambhava rupa to Adhisthana, and Yashodeva’s team drove back with him from the remote Welsh coast, through the most vibrant rainbows they’d ever seen. Some of you will remember the rupa as the central figure on the wonderful shrine created in the marquee for the UK & Ireland combined Area Order weekend in August 2018; it was the last time Bhante appeared in public, and he was clearly moved as he circumambulated the shrine with Paramartha pushing his wheelchair. Padmasambhava will be ritually installed during the ‘Lineage and Three Esoteric Refuges’ retreat in July this year.
The March College Kulas’ meeting followed, a few days later. This is an opportunity for public preceptors in the UK and Europe to gather at Adhisthana, although some of us are involved in Kulas elsewhere in the world, and some of those Kulas were able to have hybrid meetings. As well as considering preceptor appointments and reviews, and ordination recommendations, it’s a chance to connect more personally as well as studying and meditating together, and we take the opportunity to include an information and discussion hybrid session with public preceptors worldwide. On the two transitional evenings at Adhisthana, we also had the option of watching movies: ‘The Quiet Girl’ and ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’.
This year Vajratara led study on ‘The Legacy of the Refuge Tree’, drawing on early Buddhist texts as well as Sangharakshita himself, and exploring the myth or symbol of our Refuge Tree in relation to the historical absence of our founding teacher and preceptor. We followed the study sessions with the Going for Refuge and Prostration Practice, led by Satyaraja in the Refuge Tree shrine room – which is where Bhante’s body lay between his death and funeral, at the foot of the painting by Chintamani which depicts Bhante about to bestow a kesa. During the week we were also treated to short accounts from six public preceptors, about their personal connection with a figure on the Refuge Tree. A few of us will be participating in a session during the international online Triratna Day celebrations sharing some thoughts and inspirations connected with the Refuge Tree.
During the hybrid ‘business’ session, we agreed to recommendations for two new Public Preceptors, which will hopefully be endorsed by those College members not present. We heard a proposal from Khemabandhu, for the laying of stones at Adhisthana, to mark the death of public preceptors. An outline proposal from a working group, to set up a separate Charity structure for the College, was agreed by those present. And as we will be choosing the next Chair of the College in November (they will take over from me a year later) I took the opportunity to talk more personally about how I have found the responsibility.
The discussion that has been taking place regarding the question of the ordination of former serious offenders, is taking shape in the form of a draft list of points of principle, on which consensus has so far been reached within the College and ECA (European Chairs’ Assembly). During this meeting we agreed, as a next step, to share this with Ordination Teams and Mitra Convenors – and hopefully within an Order Forum in the not too distant future.
Dharmavajri’s funeral took place during the College meeting. I’d been inspired – though not surprised – to hear of her strength of practice, following what turned out to be a terminal diagnosis, and was especially sorry, as her public preceptor, not to be able to be there. I’ve also been aware during this past month of the deaths of Sashiprabha, Amritabodhi, and Ratnavara this month; all from India, and Amritabodhi such a long-standing Order member.
Some College members had the best of reasons not to be present at the meeting; Purna and Ratnavyuha were ordaining Buddhanusarin, Sthiraratna and Darsanasiddhi at Sudarshanaloka; and in India 19 men were being ordained at Bordharan. Maitripala went straight from our hybrid session, to conduct Pasanna’s public ordination in Melbourne; and a couple of days after the meeting Yashodeva set off for Spain to ordain Vilasadipa at Suryavana.
I was delighted to hear that there is now an Asian (outside India) Triratna online group, led by Aryapala and Sraddhapa, and with people attending from Singapore, Taiwan and Japan; and that Nagasuri is leading study online for some of these people. It was lovely to see a friend, Zoe Lim, at the recent Mitra ceremony for Jananie.
And finally my personal request. I’m going to be making a pilgrimage from Tooting – Bhante’s place of birth – to Adhisthana – where he died and is buried; and I’m inviting people to sponsor me in aid of Tiratanaloka Unlimited. It’s about 150 miles, and I’m hoping to walk it in 10 days (with a rest day halfway). I’ll be travelling light – I’ve booked places to stay each evening – and am saving up Nagabodhi’s new book ‘The Boy, the Monk, the Man’ as my reading material for the journey. I really want to do what I can to support the Tiratanaloka team to find a place large enough to take the brakes off the ordination process of the next generation of women Order members. I set off on Monday 12th June, and if all goes well I’ll arrive at Adhisthana around the summer solstice and in time for the Pilgrims’ week – they’re saving the last of the 108-hour circumambulation for me!