A Community of Public PreceptorsOn Fri, 10 November, 2023 - 13:38
The past two mornings of the College meeting have been taken up with the process of discovering who will take on the responsibility of College Chair when Ratnadharini’s term comes to an end next November. The College Members present have been moving through a consensus process, skilfully held by Ratnadharini. This will be returned to after an interlude, to be concluded in the final days of the meeting, following which the outcome will be shared with the Order. The afternoons have again been spent in College Kulas: the smaller groupings of Public Preceptors, generally organised by the geographical Area within which they hold responsibility for Ordination processes.
The evenings have been an opportunity for the College to deepen connection and a sense of community among them. On Wednesday, Ratnavyuha hosted condensed life-stories told in three ‘vignettes’, by Nagaketu, Akasasuri and Abhayavati - three of the newest Public Preceptors. And last night, Maitreyabandhu hosted an evening of personal talks on the theme of ‘History & Myth’, from Mahamati, Yashosagar, Vajratara and Maitreyi. This drew inspiration from Sangharakshita’s talk on the theme from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa series, in which he explores the ‘marriage’ of history and myth in the life of the individual and their search for meaning.
We’ve now been joined by a few of the College ‘Elders’ (those who have retired as Public Preceptors in previous years), for a weekend of study, ritual, and farewell celebrations for the four who will be retiring at the end of this meeting: Karunadevi, Nagabodhi, Surata and Maitreyi.
It’s time that we returned, it’s time that we got to grips with man’s quest for meaning. Meaning is not an abstract thing. It’s not something that you can look up in the dictionary. Meaning must be meaning for you, must be something that you personally experience. Man’s quest for meaning is therefore his quest for himself. His quest for the totality, for the wholeness, of his own being. On one level, so to speak, man belongs to the realm of historical reality. On another level he belongs to the realm of spiritual reality, and the Mahayana scriptures reveal this realm to him. Myth reveals this world to him. Poetry reveals this world to him. And they don’t reveal it to him as something external to himself. They reveal it to him as his own world. Reveal it to him as a world in which he himself actually lives, usually without knowing it, a world of which he is part. A world of which he is an inhabitant. It was a maxim of the Neo-Platonists that the eye was able to see the sun only because it had in it something sun-like, something akin to the sun. Similarly we can experience the archetypal realm at all only because we ourselves are on another level archetypal beings.
If we read a Mahayana sutra properly we become part of the sutra, we become part of the assembly. We’re included in the assembly. There we are right in the midst of the assembly. But the fact that we can ourselves make the transition from the realm of historical reality to the realm of archetypal reality does not mean that the realm of historical reality is left behind. It doesn’t mean that we discard history and opt for myth. We need both. We need both because we exist in fact in both realms. We exist in the realm of historical reality, we exist in the realm of archetypal reality. We exist in them all the time. Even though in the case of the realm of archetypal reality we may not be conscious of the fact. There’s no question therefore of our literally passing from the one to the other. There’s no question even of them existing as it were side by side.
In the mural painting Vimalakirti and Manjusri confront each other. They’re engaged in vigorous encounter. It’s a question of history versus myth, but what we have to do is to bring them together. That there has to be a sort of marriage between Vimalakirti and Manjusri. We have to realise that Vimalakirti is Manjusri, and that Manjusri is Vimalakirti. Time is eternity. Eternity is time. Rupa is Sunyata. Sunyata is Rupa. If we can realise that then history and myth will have played their part in man’s quest for meaning, and man’s quest for meaning, his quest for himself, will be complete.