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This Easter, South America saw its first ever Going for Refuge retreat (for those training to be ordained in Triratna), in the Venezuelan Andes, outside the city of Mérida.
Triratna activities in Venezuela began in the early 1990s although the Centre has received very limited support and input from the wider sangha until quite recently. The Centre currently boasts more than 20 mitras, 13 of whom have asked for ordination.
While six men Mitras were on their first Going for Refuge retreat on home soil, six women were at the same time participating in their first Going for Refuge retreat at Chintamani Retreat Centre in Mexico; a retreat that culminated in the ordinations of 7 Mexican women.
Watch the ordination ceremony.
The men’s retreat was led by Vajranatha, Chair of Venezuela’s Mérida Centre, and Nagapriya, Chair of the Cuernavaca Buddhist Centre in Mexico. Bruno Mendoza, a Mexican mitra, travelled with Nagapriya to attend the retreat and enhanced its international flavour.
The determination and commitment of the Venezuelan mitras was evident throughout a week of intensive practice focusing on ethics, confession and communication. The retreat was held in the beautiful surroundings of a house belonging to Paula Michelangeli - who was away on the retreat in Mexico.
The men and women pursuing their Going for Refuge in Venezuela face some stiff practical challenges, as well as the usual spiritual ones. A good salary is worth the equivalent of perhaps 15 US Dollars per month while the collapse of the currency means that just to buy breakfast can involve handing over more than a 100 banknotes. There are many scarcities - toiletries, tinned goods, and so on - and simply obtaining sufficient food to feed nine men for a week required a huge effort.
The value and impact of the Dharma in Mérida can be illustrated through the example of Fabian Orozco, who arrived at the Centre aged just 15 wanting to learn kung fu in order to survive in his tough neighbourhood. Now 18 and living in the men’s residential community, Fabian sees the Order as his future. Given adecuate training and support, Fabian, along with his brothers and sisters in the Dharma, will carry the Triratna sangha into a bright future in Venezuela and beyond.
Visits from Order members and Mitras from outside Venezuela offer a vital source of inspiration and kalyana mitrata (spiritual friendship). However, given the economic difficulties that currently fetter the country, such exchanges depend on the financial support of Triratna people around the world. Local fundraising ideas include a photography exhibition of the works of Ricardo Rico, who asked for ordination some 18 years ago and still has faith that his dream of becoming a Dharmachari will come true.
To support the Mérida sangha with money, or if you want to know more, vayira [at] gmail.com (email Vajranatha.)