Shakyajata, an English woman Order Member, is recently back from India which she visits annually, touring and leading retreats for Indian women, each time taking Triratna’s activities into new parts of that vast country. She writes with news of their latest development, an unexpectedly large women’s retreat in Chhattisgarh, a very poor part of Central India. She says -
“The retreat took place from Friday 23rd to Tuesday 27th December (a national holiday here). It was hosted by Triratna’s Satyaloka rural retreat centre, a recently developed facility in the heart of rural Chhattisgarh, but also within reach of the principal city of this very underdeveloped state, Raipur.
So…..we had expected a maximum of 75 people on the retreat, with the necessary funding for most of them covered by a generous Western donation, the rest by local donations. In the event, well over 150 women came, double the number. Some came over 100km, by bus, train, and tractor! The majority were young women in their early to mid-twenties, many from ‘Scheduled Tribes’ ethnic groups, many completely new to Buddhism.
150 women meant the resources of the retreat centre and team were somewhat stretched! Fortunately we were a very strong team: 3 Indian women Order Members who travelled with me, 3 friends from Nagpur, and a good number of local women mitras, who helped keep the organisation from collapsing - quite a feat! I want to thank them most warmly for all the hard work they put in.
The retreat centre is in a beautiful setting among rice-fields, but very cold at night, and the washing facilities were rather crowded. A lovely sight to see, however, was women bathing in the open, in the afternoon sun, screened by trees (they are wonderfully adept at bathing fully-clothed), rejoicing in the abundant supply of water from the retreat centre bore-hole; that must be a great treat in this semi-desert area. Wonderful bird life, too, in iridescent greens and blues, plus a lovely pale-coloured small hawk which I have not seen before, and amazing butterflies, in colours from pale yellow to black.
Although a handful found themselves uncomfortable and left early, the majority became more and more interested, getting a glimpse of a new way of living, one with increased self-respect and self-determination. The atmosphere became more and more positive, partly thanks to discussion groups with the Indian Order Members, which went very well. People really engaged with the material, which was the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha - the ideal of human perfection, the way to it, and the company of those following the way - or Equality, Liberty, and Fraternity, to draw a parallel with Dr. Ambedkar’s words. (Most of the women were from families who are followers of this great liberator of ‘low-caste’ people.)
It was a treat to meet these young women (and old, and middle-aged women too!) who have so little future here, and see how lively and bright they are……and see how much interest there is in developing both Dhamma activities and social projects in Chhattisgarh, which we have many plans to do - watch this space! We got a sense of huge, visionary potential, but not just daydreams. The experienced members of the retreat stayed behind to discuss future plans, and their proposals were clear and sharp. The Order Members and mitras who run the retreat centre also have great plans to develop it - for example by adding an upper storey to an existing building they have built through their own efforts, and establishing a community at the retreat centre, plus many other ideas. Maybe the best aspect of the event, was the way that seeds were sown of friendships and contacts. One extremely hardworking girl kept a register of 154 names and contact details, which will be most useful in future.
It was altogether very satisfying, and a huge opportunity to meet some extremely vibrant and energetic people, nearly all women. May they thrive and flourish, in this neglected spot, and build a good life for themselves.”