Chairs' Letter – September 2022On Fri, 30 September, 2022 - 22:03
Dear Order Members and Friends,
I’m writing this month’s update from Aryaloka retreat centre, in the US. When I first became College Chair I planned to connect up with Order members outside the UK, but Covid restrictions put international travel on hold for a couple of years. Three weeks ago I set off on a road trip with Aryadrishti, one of the American Order Convenors, taking in some of the places I’ve not been to before: Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Missoula, Vancouver, and Aryaloka; I also took the opportunity to renew my Canadian passport and spend a couple of days in Ottawa, city of my birth. I was sorry not to get to San Francisco, New York or Tacoma this time, but hope to make the Pan American convention in Mexico next year.
It’s been delightful to build on my connection with Aryadrishti, which dates back to 1995 when we were both living in Melbourne. She did all the driving on this trip – which included detours to take in stunning scenery, avoid wildfires and particularly bad patches of smoke, and for me to get to kayak through Portland on the Willamette river (thanks to Jamie). I’m grateful to Aryadrishti for her generosity and friendship, and to many others along the way for their hospitality: especially Taraprabha and Larry in Seattle, Varada and Buddhapalita in Missoula, and Shantinayaka, Satyavasini and Vimalasara in Vancouver, who so kindly hosted us. Thanks too to everyone involved in scenic hikes and great food.
Sangha night in Seattle passed in a bit of a blur, as I was just off the plane and had been awake for nearly 48 hours, but it was a great place to start; since then, my appreciation of the distances involved between Triratna activities has grown considerably. Along the way I’ve been able to share my experience of the College and International Council, answer questions and hear any concerns. It’s been good to spend time with Order members and Mitras, both those I knew already and those I hadn’t met before, and useful to get a general sense of each sangha – especially as they emerge from a couple of years of Covid restrictions.
My final week has been here at Aryaloka, where I’m glad to have finally got to see the unusual domes that form the main spaces and enjoy such a well-established retreat centre. My time here began with an Order weekend, and I appreciated the opportunity for Dharma study based on Subhuti’s material on Vasubandhu’s Vijnaptimatrata trimsika karika. Right now the indefatigable Karunadevi, Amala, and I are in the middle of leading a preceptors’ retreat, and then Karunadevi and I will be staying on for just the first day of a women’s GFR retreat.
While I’ve been out of the UK, Queen Elizabeth, Abhaya and Saramati have all died. I’d been very glad to exchange a few words with Abhaya a few weeks ago, as he’d been able to attend the UK and Ireland Convention and had a luminous quality about him then. I was also glad to have been able to have a short online conversation with Varasuri, Saramati’s wife, when I was in Missoula shortly before his death.
Backtracking to August, it was wonderful to be back at Wymondham College for the Convention, with 450 other Order members, and able to meet up with so many friends again. Highlights for me were the talks by Padmavajra and Vijayamala, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Bhante’s Going Forth in India; the extraordinary rendition of the Dhammapada, courtesy of Manidhara; and the launch of Tiratanaloka Unlimited, the fundraising campaign that will take the brakes off the number of women training for ordination. There were other great fundraising campaigns being launched at the same time, for The Abhayaratna Trust’s ‘Order Health Fund’, Buddhafield ‘Base’, and the Urgyen Sangharakshita Trust, but I have a particular connection with Tiratanaloka, having lived there for years and now being their president, and have been aware of the limitations of the property for many years. I was also delighted to be able to purchase a sculpture by Nagasiddhi in their sale of donated art!
I got to visit Alfoxton for the first time in August, and was very impressed with the inspired and talented team and volunteers led by Jayaraja; I wish them well with such an exciting and challenging project.
Meanwhile, among other events at Adhisthana, the second International Course has taken place, with Order members from Australia, New Zealand, the US, Mexico, India, Finland, Poland, Germany, Ireland, and the UK, and was much appreciated; and now another men’s Dharma Life Course is underway. It’s significant having visitors join the community from so many different countries.
I’ll be arriving back in the UK and going straight into an Order nissaya retreat at Tiratanaloka, followed soon afterwards by meetings of the International Council and then of the College. It’s been great to be able to start meeting in larger ‘in person’ numbers again, and easy to forget what it was like when that was not possible; however I’m aware we will need to explore how best to organise ourselves, as a growing international sangha and given increasing awareness of environmental concerns. Next year we’ll be marking the tenth anniversary of Adhisthana, and I’m especially excited that we’ve just sent out invitations for a ‘lineage of responsibility’ retreat mirroring the very first retreat ten years ago, when the ECA opened their gathering to preceptors, presidents, mitra and Order Convenors.
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