Chairs' Letter – November 2021On Tue, 30 November, 2021 - 21:54
Dear Order members and friends,
This month the annual international College meeting was a complex hybrid affair, taking place partly in person at Adhisthana, and partly online. Akasajoti came up with a schedule that not only took into account the different time zones, but also maximised crossover by shuffling us into different configurations; she even set up interactive zoom screen in the shrine room that meant we could all see and hear each other.
We began the meeting with three days of ‘business’ discussion, held entirely on zoom. My Chair’s report included some relevant statistics on ordinations and the Order generally. I also covered the various areas of responsibility of the College Chair: International Council, liaison with the European Chairs’ Assembly; Adhisthana; Presidents’ meeting; and the Ethics Kula (of which I am no longer a member). I drew people’s attention to the outcomes of a conflict resolution process, initiated by a group of Order members with concerns about the communication of a couple of Public Preceptors in relation to ex-Satyadhana and raising the possibility of this being a more systemic issue. I also mentioned that I had found the past two years challenging, and that continuing to do a little Dharma teaching had been a boon.
There was also a reporting back from the Indian Preceptors’ Kula, which is always much appreciated, and which this time included an account of the impressive work that has been done by our community in response to the suffering due to the Covid pandemic. We also heard about the impact of changing legislation in India (the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) which has highlighted areas of unclarity and concern between some of our Trusts – and unfortunately given rise to some disharmony.
We experimented this time with combining discussion topics into four focus groups, each taking place twice to enable international participation. Each was led by two facilitators who prepared material in advance, and we invited people to follow their interests in choosing a group. We hoped this format would give enough time for depth of discussion and – where appropriate – come up with recommendations to put to the whole meeting, and from the plenary sessions this appears to have worked well. We will have more to communicate from these soon. There was also a Triratna Preceptors’ College Trust AGM, and a report back from the College Kula Reps (a group of representatives from the College kulas in each ‘Area’).
After a free day – which some people spent travelling – those of us in the UK (joined by Kulanandi, who is based in Berlin) met at Adhisthana, where our first opportunity for 18 months to meet ‘live’ was a joy. Others from Europe, India, Mexico, USA, Australia, and New Zealand, joined us on zoom.
We then moved into a period of retreat, interspersed with gatherings of individual Kulas. Our meeting has usually followed the format of: Kula time; retreat period; ‘business’ discussion, and my impression was that people enjoyed having the ‘business’ discussion first and then moving into a more retreat-like week that included time in our individual Kulas during the first few days.
During this phase of the meeting we welcomed six new Public Preceptors: Abhayadana, Abhayavati, Shubhajaya and Vijaya from India; Vajratara and Yashodeva from the UK (although Yashodeva will be especially supporting the Spanish-speaking ordination processes). We were treated to life stories from Abhayadana, Vijaya, Vajratara, Yashodeva, and Jnanavaca; and we rejoiced in the merits of Karunamaya and Padmasuri, as they both retire from the College.
The retreat itself was based around study led by Subhadramati drawing from a 1980 seminar on Chapter 13 of the Jewel Ornament of Liberation: ‘The Perfection of Ethics and Manners’, as well as extracts from ‘the Windhorse Trading seminar’ in 1993 where Bhante approaches the development of insight. We had small groups for discussion and confession, and also practised the Vajrasattva sadhana, led by Jnanavaca and Purna, and Vajrasattva and Sutra of Golden Light pujas, led by Punyamala and Padmasuri. It was magical to participate in a puja that was being led in the Adhisthana shrine room, but with readings and mantras coming ‘live’ from people in other countries.
Another innovation was the ‘Open Evening with the College’, hosted by Maitreyabandhu and Vajrajyoti, and attended by around 700 Mitras and Order members from all over the world. Padmavajra, Vajratara, and Ratnavyuha gave short talks on the central Buddhist act of Going for Refuge, as well as the meaning and significance of our private and public ordination; mitras Cara, Nick, and Solvieg shared very moving personal accounts of why they have asked for ordination; and a panel responded to questions. Many thanks to the team doing an almost impossible task of simultaneous translation into German, French, and Spanish - we will keep trying to deepen our practice of international community and the inclusion of people whose first language is not English. The level of interest, significant content, and messages of appreciation, mean that this is something we would like to repeat.
Events coming from Adhisthana this Autumn have been marking the third anniversary of Bhante’s death. During the International Council weekend at the end of October, each day began with a ritual led by Aryajaya from Urgyen House. I was uplifted by a talk from Subhadramati exploring the theme of Commonality from the perspective of our Refuge Tree – in particular the version painted by Chintamani, in which Bhante is seen holding up a kesa in anticipation of the act of bestowing ordination.
Bhante’s presence was felt very strongly during the ritual handover of the responsibility of Chair of Adhisthana, from Saddhanandi to Khemabandhu. After many years as Taraloka Chair, Saddhanandi was asked to move to Adhisthana in 2014, and became Chair the following year. She has been formative in building the community and developed a close personal connection with Bhante, and during the ritual handover she generously passed to Khemabandhu the piece of greenstone Bhante had given to her. I’m glad to say Saddhanandi will be continuing at Adhisthana as part of the Dharma Team, which is the core of a wider Adhisthana Teaching Community that recently gathered at Adhisthana; some 20-30 experienced Dharma teachers (including some from other countries) who will be developing our teachings of Bhante’s particular presentation of the Dharma. As well as supporting this emerging project, our new Chair, Khemabandhu, is especially keen to create opportunities for more young people to benefit from being at Adhisthana, so I’m sure we will be hearing more about that.
Finally: sadhu to Silamani and team in Valencia, for their beautiful new Centre; and to Viveka, Mahaprabha, Ananta, and Samayasri and colleague Max Gaston, for initiating Karuna USA.