Chair's Letter – November 2023On Thu, 30 November, 2023 - 16:56
Dear Order members and friends,
November is when the international meeting of the College takes place at Adhisthana, and this recent meeting was especially rich and satisfying. I’m going to attempt to describe how it unfolded day by day…
However at the beginning of the month I was still on the Pan American Convention in Mexico. I wanted to visit Chintamani retreat centre on the way back into Mexico City, and in the end around 20 of us were very generously hosted there for lunch and a guided tour. It’s a beautiful environment – with a swimming pool! Back in the city I managed to fit in some of the things that covid isolation had prevented earlier: a tour of the impressive Mexico City Centre and meeting up with Upekshamati; and a day in the Anthropological Museum – too much to take in even with a quarter of the galleries closed. Ujjala and her husband kindly put me up in their flat in Coyoacan during the buildup to the Day of the Dead celebrations and took me to the extraordinary house built by Emilio Fernandez, which has been the set for some 140 movies and every year is entirely taken over by shrines to ‘some of the most iconic souls of Mexican history and culture’. Unfortunately the day before I was due to leave Mexico I discovered my return flights had mistakenly been cancelled, which meant a mad dash to the airport to reinstate them.
Back in the UK, College members were arriving at Adhisthana from Australia, New Zealand, India, North America, Mexico, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK, and out of a current total of 50 College members, 45 were able to attend. We were welcoming two new Public Preceptors to their first meeting: Dayachandra and Jnanadakini, from Mexico, and a sign of our growing internationality was that there were two non-English speakers present – and others able to provide simultaneous Hindi and Spanish translation most of the time.
Broadly speaking, the meeting moved through four phases: the process of appointing the future Chair of the College; study; focus on Kulas; and discussion of principles and specific issues. Most afternoons throughout the meeting we also met in our geographical Kulas to discuss matters such as ordination proposals and retreats, and appointment of preceptors.
We opened as usual with an evening of reporting in from everyone present, and then Guru Yoga the following morning resoundingly led by Padmavajra. We then began the future Chair appointment process by hearing something of the experience of previous College Chairs: from Dhammarati, who completed two five-year terms of office, Saddhaloka and myself, and then met in Kulas to consider the nature of the role and what might be needed of a future Chair. (Unfortunately Subhuti – appointed by Sangharakshita as the initial Chair – was unable to be with us as he was in the middle of moving to a house very close to Adhisthana.) The day culminated in a seven-fold puja led by Punyamala and dedicated to Bhante Sangharakshita that included a number of his poems written to his own teachers and expressing something of ‘transcendent community’, and we ended by chanting the closing mantras around his burial mound.
The next morning each of us was invited to propose someone and say why we thought they would make a good College Chair. Eight names were put forward, and those eight people then had a short meeting during which it became clear that five needed to rule themselves out. During a second round the remaining three names were supplemented by two new proposals, and we went on to discuss these five proposals in our individual Kulas that afternoon. In the evening we caught up on life stories from Nagaketu, Akasasuri and Abhayavati; given the current size of the College we’ve started to hear essentialised versions based around three significant times / events, and have found this works well to communicate a sense of each person.
The next day we continued the appointment process by hearing back from each Kula in order to begin the process of working towards consensus… and discovered there was a unanimous wish for Mahamati to become the next College Chair. In response to this request Mahamati let us know that although he had not anticipated this, he was open to it and was in fact experiencing a rising of energy. There was a general sense of happiness and relief that the process had been so straightforward, although we would wait until later in the meeting to confirm the appointment. The evening was chaired by Maitreyabandhu as, inspired by a talk by Bhante on the ‘marriage’ of history and myth in the life of the individual and their search for meaning (from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa series), he invited Mahamati, Yashosagar and Maitreyi to talk personally on the theme.
The following two days were devoted to study led by Jnanavaca. As Akasajoti noted: ‘Jnanavaca led three sessions of stimulating, interactive study on the ‘four myths of the spiritual life’. He explored this model that Subhuti conceived and introduced in a talk on the international Order convention in 2003 (and was more recently explored by Jnanavaca and Maitreyabandhu on a retreat at Adhisthana in 2020) and articulated it’s potential benefits for us in offering a unifying perspective on different approaches to the spiritual life. Whilst warning against literalising the model, he considered the strengths and weaknesses of each of these ‘myths’ and pointed to underlying principles, suggesting how this could support harmonious communication and allow for an appreciative and discerning engagement across differences in approach.’
The evening of the first of the study days was devoted to marking the retirement from the College of Karunadevi and then Nagabodhi. It’s a wonderful opportunity to rejoice in people’s merits while they are alive and present… and recollections of each of them spanned most of the history of Triratna in the US and UK. Karunadevi was co-founder of the San Francisco Buddhist Centre, as well as Director of a Youth Heath Center, and is stepping down after many years of being one of only two Public Preceptors in North America and having recently conducted what was probably her last public ordination (in Mexico) as Amala conducted her first. Nagabodhi was instrumental in the creation of Windhorse Publications and Karuna Trust, and has long been involved in Triratna publications generally, and his work as president and preceptor has taken him all over the world.
The second study day was also the fifth anniversary of Bhante’s funeral, and that afternoon the Adhisthana community joined us as we laid the first of the memorial stones that will mark the responsibility held by College members for ordination in Triratna, following on from Sangharakshita. (A recent development for Adhisthana has been hosting funerals of Order members and Khemabandhu, as Chair, has been reflecting on how to honour and remember all Order Members after death.) The stones – actually slate – will be engraved by a local stonemason with the name of the Public Preceptor, the date of the first public ordination they performed, and the date of their death, and will be placed around the outer circle of Sangharakshita’s burial mound for future generations to be able to trace their ordination lineage. It was a simple ritual beginning with a period of reflection in the shrine room, led by Punyamala, and followed by rejoicing in Sudarshan’s life – which was tragically cut short by a traffic accident in 2009. It was dark by the time we reached the burial mound, so it was by lamplight that I placed some of Sudharshan’s ashes in the ground and Khemabandhu placed the memorial stone on top. Padmavajra recited Bhante’s poem ‘The Six Elements Speak’ – as he had done at the end of Bhante’s funeral – and we ended by circumambulating and chanting the mantra of Sudarshan’s yiddam, Manjusri.
That evening, we watched a short new video from Adhisthana: Remembering Sangharakshita; a series of photographs of the days leading up to and including his funeral, set to Strauss’ ‘Im Abendrot’. This was followed by a conversation with some of the College Elders (Sanghadevi, Suvajra, Padmasuri, and Saddhaloka) who shared their memories of the history of the College and experience since retiring. Retired College members are always invited to join us at Adhisthana when we are meeting, and Subhuti, Srimala and Manjuvajra were able to be there later on.
After a day spent in our various Kulas, we spent a second evening marking retirements from the College, this time of Surata and Maitreyi. As we rejoice in each retiring College member it actually seems to strengthen the connections between us. Surata is a yogi who has been part of the men’s ordination team at Padmaloka for 35 years. He was in the College before me, and has been a loyal and grounded presence – sitting on the floor and taking notes – and is clearly a significant kalyanamitra to many people. Maitreyi and I arrived at the London Buddhist Centre soon after it opened, were ordained together and have lived together in several communities, and I think of her as my dharma sister. She was a founder member of the Bodywise initiative at the LBC and a member of the women’s ordination team at Tiratanaloka for over 20 years, and is dedicated to creating spiritual community.
During the meeting we make time to hear from the Indian Kula, as they have so much to share with us. This year Yashosagar – recently returned from sabbatical – and Abhayadana presented photos and talked to us, among other things, about the development of non-residential ordination training courses for young people and the new Sudarshan Bhumi ordination training centre. The Indian ordination teams are working with nearly 2,000 people who have requested ordination, across huge distances and in challenging financial circumstances.
After a wonderful meal prepared by the Indian Kula, we were treated to an evening hosted by Subhadramati, who had invited 10 people to present something of how imagination manifests in their lives. Mentioning no names, we were introduced to a fascinating sequence of songs, poetry, drama, painting, graphic design and pre-hispanic Mexican culture, and were knocked out by the bog woman knitted from the discarded selvedge of Harris tweed!
With two days to go we returned to the question of who will take over from me as College Chair in a year’s time. We were all delighted to hear that after having had a few days to consider our request and talk it over with friends, Mahamati was happy to accept the responsibility. We used the rest of the morning for a general exploration of the nature of the College.
In the afternoon session we agreed (subject to comment from the five College members unable to be present) to the appointment of Sucimani, from Croydon UK, as a new Public Preceptor; I am glad to say this has now been announced and you can find out more about Sucimani here.
The College working arrangements are subject to review, and a proposal from Nagapriya for adjusting the criteria for preceptor reviews was circulated. Essentially this aims to distinguish a review from an appointment process, and to consider the difference in the responsibilities held by private or public preceptors. We were not able to go into the proposal in detail during the meeting, so will allow more time for responses. We also heard useful feedback from leaders of the long ordination courses / retreats.
The Adhisthana community joined the College for a meal and special evening inauguration of the new “Bhim Smrti”, or Dr B. R. Ambedkar Memorial. Our Indian brothers and sisters had commissioned a wonderful bronze bust of Dr. Ambedkar and arranged for it to be shipped to Adhisthana in time for this occasion. Amrutdeep chaired the evening and after a Pali Puja, led by Ratnadeep, and circumambulation of Bhante’s burial mound we gathered in the room immediately above the main shrine room where the bust of Dr. Ambedkar was unveiled by Subhuti and garlanded, and Amoghasiddhi and Subhuti drew out the significance of the occasion. Amoghasiddhi emphasised how, in spite of the many avenues he could have chosen to go down, Dr. Ambedkar was clear that only the Dharma could truly transform people’s lives. Subhuti talked about the significance of the connection between Bhante and Dr. Ambedkar; the deep feeling that so many people involved in Triratna in India have for Dr. Ambedkar; and how Dr. Ambedkar’s take on political and social issues does not compromise with either the left or the right.
For the final morning of the meeting we were joined first by the International Order Convenors, Aryajaya and Vajrapriya, who had also attended the study sessions, and then by Nandavajra and Danayutta, from Future Dharma Fund. The Order Convenors had prepared a report and it was helpful to share impressions, especially as there is a lot of overlap between our responsibilities. Future Dharma Fund presented general background information, including the fact that the largest contribution they make is via the India Dharma Trust to the Indian ordination teams, and there was a lot of appreciation for the work they do to support Triratna as well as a few questions.
In the afternoon we were again joined by the International Order Convenors, as well as Subhadassi, as Order Convenor for Ethics, for a discussion of ethical matters such as the progress of reviewing the processes followed when dealing with serious allegations or issues. We also touched on the topics of the relationship between Safeguarding and Order Ethics; heard updates on two cases of probation; and considered the need for preceptors to be fully aware of any significant ethical breaches on the part of those they are about to ordain.
Finally we heard from the representatives of each College Kula who liaise between meetings. Ratnavyuha picked out the topics of: the different approaches within Triratna to the Six Element practice; and varying opinions regarding the ethical considerations of the use of pornography.
Our final evening together consisted of reporting out, expressing thanks to everyone who had contributed to a successful meeting, transference of merits – and fireworks – around the burial mound, and we ended with the Padmasambhava mantra. Once again we were grateful for the generosity of Adhisthana in hosting this meeting and helping make it such an enjoyable, as well as useful, gathering.
> See the video updates from the College Meeting, here.