From A Vision to A Reality: The Sangha in the US and CanadaOn Tue, 10 September, 2019 - 18:04
“An ever-widening circle, the Sangha grows…”
From its beginnings in 1980, when Manjuvajra first brought Triratna Dharma to Boston, the Sangha in Canada and the United States has been ever-growing. The current year has seen a number of significant steps forward for the Triratna Buddhist Community’s ordination process in North America.
In May the first ever post-ordination retreat for US/Canadian Dharmacharinis (female Order members) took place with seven of the twelve Dharmacharinis ordained in the last two years attending the retreat. In this two-year period a record number of women have been ordained and with two more women set to be ordained on a Pan-American women’s ordination training retreat at Chintamani Retreat Center, Mexico, in October, the total number of newly ordained women in US and Canada will be fourteen.
Also in May the largest men’s ordination training retreat in a decade took place with twenty-three men coming together to explore the meaning of spiritual community and the ideals that the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community are based on. The retreat culminated in the ordination of Dan Roberts from Seattle, who was publicly ordained by the newly appointed Public Preceptor, Viradhamma.
Viradhamma encountered Triratna in 1980 but became seriously involved in 1989, helping to set up the San Francisco Buddhist Centre. He was ordained in 1994 on the first international ordination retreat in India. Viradhamma is the first American man to join the College of Public Preceptors and he will be working to plan retreats and stay in contact with all the men training for ordination in Canada and the United States.
A New Meditation Space at Dharmadhara
Viradhamma writes: “One of the most significant developments for the men’s sangha has been the project of building the meditation hall at Dharmadhara in Northern California. Up until now retreats at Dharmadhara have been limited by the weather and the small size of the residence building, but over the past year Vimalamoksa and a team of volunteers built a wonderful new meditation space using lumber milled from trees on the site. The new hall has both heating and air-conditioning so it can be used in all seasons and it has space for up to thirty-five people. The whole process of designing and building the space involved volunteers in all kinds of work including design, engineering, millwork, electrical etc., and men from Vancouver, Seattle, Montana and California joined in. It was a real experience of shared inspiration and commitment and friendship, and it is exciting to think that the meditation hall will benefit people for years to come.
While the regional and annual retreats are important opportunities to gather in large numbers, the day-to-day work of ordination training takes place within the local center context. The men’s groups in Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco are particularly active right now, but Danadasa has been leading an initiative to connect with Mitras in other areas via regular video conference meetings.”
Local Preceptors and Ordinations on North Amercian Soil
Since its beginning twenty-six years ago, the women’s ordination training wing in the US/Canada region has gradually developed and grown – both in terms of the numbers of women being ordained but also in the number of private preceptors.
Karunadevi was the first American woman, living in the US, to be ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order. She came across Buddhism in 1980 through Lama Govinda’s teachings. In 1988 she met Manjuvajra, chair of Aryaloka Retreat Center in New Hampshire, who was giving a talk at Stanford University. Shortly after that she became involved in a weekly meditation and study group that was the beginning of the San Francisco Buddhist Center. She was ordained by Sangharakshita in 1993 at Aryaloka.
She writes: “Currently there are nine female private preceptors living and working in the US and Canada, and approximately fifty-five women who have requested ordination, nearly forty of whom are actively involved presently in the trainings being offered. We offer two longer training retreats each year, one in the West and one in the East. Shorter three or four day retreats are offered regionally each year for those not able to attend the longer ones.
Having local private preceptors and ordinations on North American soil has been inspiring for mitras, leading more to ask for ordination. So the training of mitras is now much more hands on. Attention is given to each person’s needs for specific training. They have a broader understanding of what the Order is and a broader array of preceptors to choose from.
The other source of inspiration came from the creation of a women’s ordination retreat center in Spain, Akashavana, in 2007. I ordained one woman on the three month retreat in 2007 and two of the women I had previously ordained also attended that retreat. On our next ordination training retreat on the west coast, we did a slide show about Akashavana and talked it up to the mitras. Between 2007 and 2018 eighteen US/Canadian women were ordained on either the three month or the two week retreats at Akashavana, including seven on the three month retreat in 2018, which prompted the post-ordination retreat.”
The next several years will be an exciting time for the Sanghas in the US and Canada. On the men’s side there will be new building projects at Dharmadhara, a pilgrimage in India in 2020, and new opportunities for practice and community. Meanwhile on the women’s side there is a succession planning project underway to assist Karunadevi in handing over the work that she has been doing for the last twenty five years to a younger generation of Order Members.