Ratnasuri, founder member of the community at Taraloka retreat centre for women, UK, has moved out to begin a new life, living alone for almost the first time in her 91 years.
Saddhanandi writes: In 1985, in her 60s, Ratnasuri moved to the newly-bought Taraloka, along with Sanghadevi and the two mitras who became Karunasri and Kulanandi. As other women laboured to convert the farm buildings, she worked away to support them, cooking for entire retreats on just two gas rings.
Ratnasuri has lived at Taraloka for 29 years. You might know her as a poet (a book of her poetry was published in celebration of her 90th birthday last year); or as a creator of wood-cuts (particularly of Tara and Vajrayogini); or as a photographer who gave silent slide-shows of heart-opening images on retreat; or as the Order’s first Public Preceptor for women (travelling to India to conduct the first Ordinations of women by women); or as a dynamic, to-the-point friend and Preceptor; or as an adventurous, creative spirit who has continued to expand; or as an old woman, struggling with her increasing blindness and the physical complications of old-age.
There are many sides to Ratnasuri and I’ve live with all of them for nearly 20 of her 29 years at Taraloka. Now, as I’m typing this, her room next door is empty. I shall miss her bright enthusiasm, her tremendous perceptive nature and her great cappuccinos!
As I think back over our lives together there are many moments of beauty and friendship:
her boldness in recognising I was ready to be ordained after I’d been living with her for only a week!
our many conversations over coffee, discussing poetry, our mutual friends, and the direction of Taraloka
sitting with her whilst she took the phone call from her son, telling her that her other son had been found dead
her joyous mudita in publicly ordaining someone
her riding a newly bought scooter around the kitchen just for the fun of it, aged 87!
her explaining to her friends that her new scooter was NOT a disability vehicle as they had assumed, but one that teenagers use on the streets!
her love of the Order and of Sangharakshita
her loyalty to Amitabha
her faithfulness to Vajrayogini: born of the realisation (in her 80s) that she needed to focus even more on ‘letting go’
the poignancy of her descending blindness (as reflected in this poem)
Such delight Sometimes, just sometimes When the light is kind I see a friend’s expression The light in her eyes. It doesn’t even have to be A friend. Just a human being What a delight that is. To respond to a smile.
On her last evening, the Taraloka Community sat in the community shrine room and did a metta bhavana focusing on Ratnasuri and the step she was about to make. Then, whilst the Amitabha mantra was chanted, Ratnasuri moved around the room silently bowing to each individual and then she left, leaving only her absence and the strong presence of change.
A week later she is settling into her new flat in sheltered housing in nearby Wrexham. Ratnasuri’s connection with Taraloka is as strong as ever, but it’s now at a distance. Without the busyness of community life, she’s enjoying greater simplicity and stillness and she’s looking forward to a more reflective lifestyle - the vision behind her decision to leave.
We all wish her well in this courageous step. Sadhu! sadhu! sadhu!