Chairs' Letter – September 2021On Thu, 30 September, 2021 - 10:22
Dear Order members and friends,
It’s a while since I’ve written, as there was no September Shabda.
It’s been a delight over the past few months to see a series of ‘hybrid’ events taking place at Adhisthana,‘in person’ as well as online. People have appreciated being able to reconnect in that way again, as well as enjoying the beautiful environment and the opportunity to visit the newly opened Urgyen House and exhibition, and the community have been happy to be able to welcome people back on site.
Among other events we were able to meet in relatively large numbers for a UK & Ireland combined Order weekend in August. There was a wealth of input from Vidyamala on Satipatthana and Lojong training, and opportunities to explore associated areas of practice more deeply; also the launch of the Urgyen Sangharakshita Trust, and a talk from Subhuti on ‘The Gurus’ Adhisthana’. The marquee remained up for the Sub 35 festival retreat, created by Ksantikara and team, which combined the liveliness of a festival with a seriously weighty retreat programme; Ratnaghosha, Saddhanandi, and Dhammarati each gave talks based on a line from Padmasambhava’s ‘Advice to the Three Fortunate Women’.
Many of us are still subject to varying degrees of Covid infection and lockdown, and the stress and uncertainty look likely to be with us for a while to come. The positive aspects of online communication have helped enormously, although I wonder about the effect of spending so much of my life attached to my computer. I recently managed to take four days pretty much offline, fulfilling the plan I’d had for a couple of years to walk some of the ‘Beacons Way’ that zigzags across the National Park. I hadn’t been sure I would still be able to do this kind of hike, but a local chiropractor had worked wonders with my stiff and sore leg, and I felt better for the break in many ways.
Various discussions are working their way through the Order. Our first online Order Forums were attended by about 500 Order members and considered whether more serious breaches of the Ten Precepts we take at ordination might imply an Order member having put themselves outside the Order; we also explored the tension between transparency and confidentiality involved in such decision-making. It was useful to hear a range of perspectives, and we hope this conversation will continue in other contexts such as Order Chapters. We will be picking it up again during the (hybrid) College meeting in November.
This ten-day November meeting is the main College meeting of the year, when all College members come together for a period of practice, as well as discussion time both in our individual kulas and all together. This year we will have three days study with Subhadramati, on the theme of ethics and confession. We will be hearing from the College Chair and Deputies, and from the Indian Public Preceptors, and experimenting with an Open Evening with the College, hosted by Maitreyabandhu.
This year’s agenda includes the topics of: gender and the ordination process; clarification of ethical processes including probation, suspension and expulsion; communication and building trust; authority, responsibility, and the role of the College; next steps for encouraging and supporting racial diversity; and the ordination of former offenders.
We are delighted that we will be welcoming four new Indian women Public Preceptors to their first College meeting: Abhayadana and Vijaya from Nagpur, and Abhayavati and Shubhajaya from Pune. These are especially significant appointments as there have been no Indian women Public Preceptors active in the College since Jnanasuri and Karunamaya each retired for health reasons, although they (and Srimala) continue to support the situation.
We will be taking the opportunity to rejoice in Karunamaya’s merits, having done so for Jnanasuri a couple of years ago, and also in Padmasuri as she too retires. Padmasuri, Srimala, Jnanasuri, and Karunamaya have all been heroines in their own way, and all contributed so much towards making it possible for Indian women to be ordained. Padmasuri was involved in leading the long ordination retreats for women at Akashavana for many years, but lived in India as a young Dharmacharini, working as a nurse and teaching Dhamma, and is remembered and appreciated by many there. Both she and Srimala acted as private preceptors on Sangharakshita’s behalf in 1987, ordaining Vimalasuri and Jnanasuri, and Srimala has continued to visit India most years. Jnanasuri was at the mass conversion conducted by Dr. Ambedkar only weeks before he died, and has worked tirelessly for the Dhamma ever since. Karunamaya has spent most of the past 30 years living in India, and is now at least as much Indian as she is English; she is currently considering next steps that will support her love of meditation.
The International Council has also been making the most of zoom to hold a series of online gatherings. In August we explored the topic of Authority and Responsibility in our Spiritual Community, and people appreciated the opportunity to give sustained attention to a single theme – the implications of which will be followed through in future meetings.
I’m currently reading, and would recommend, ‘The Warmth of Other Suns’ by Isabel Wilkerson, telling the story of the migration of African Americans from the south to the north and west. It’s an informative and moving account and is giving me more of a sense of that aspect of history, and on the strength of that I’m intending to read her book ‘Caste – The Lies that Divide Us’.