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At the end of July Karunadevi and myself arrived at Aryaloka for a 5 week stay and a whole series of events.
On the first weekend, 13 Dharmacarinis (unfortunately no men were free to join us) got together for a heart-warming Order weekend where we explored the stages of sadhana practice outlined in the Manjugosha Stuti Sadhana using material from talks I had given at a preceptors retreat in the UK. Studying, meditating and doing puja together we created one of those special occasions where all the conditions come together to inspire and uplift each of us. All of us left with a greater understanding of how to go deeper in their own sadhana.
The following week I gave a talk on preparation for meditation to the weekly Tuesday evening Sangha class. It was well attended and we had a lively exchange of ideas and experience afterwards. Their Sangha nights are smaller than they have been but there was a strong sense of practice. As usual with our annual visits Karunadevi and I meet up 1:1 with as many people as possible, which included a couple of visits to nearby beaches and much ice cream – at least on my part.
This year Karunadevi and I had 2 visiting Dharmacarinis from Tiratanaloka joining us on the team for a US/Canadian training for Ordination retreat along with three local Dharmacarinis. It made it clear that the training provided in the US is very similar to what happens in the UK. I think everyone appreciated experiencing this – the visiting Dharmacarinis and the mitras and local order members. We explored the theme of the System of practice with live talks, study, meditation and devotional practices. Each night the shrine was transformed as we entered different dimensions of the 5 Buddha mandala. Alongside the retreat, Karunadevi led an ordination retreat for Rochelle Gatlin from San Francisco. Karunadevi as her private preceptor beautifully prepared Rochelle to make this step of commitment to the Three Jewels and the retreat created further support for her. At the same time, all the retreatants benefitted from seeing one of their fellow mitras making this step.
After the retreat both Karunadevi and I helped celebrate Kalyana mitra ceremonies for 2 mitras and a farewell to a local Aryaloka mitra, Elizabeth Hellard, who was soon to be off to Akashavana for her ordination as Amalasiri in September.
Dhammarati arrived and joined Karunadevi and myself for a private preceptor’s retreat, and later we were joined by Nagabodhi – this was a rare chance for 4 public preceptors to be together on American soil. I led the 11 of us through further exploration of the stages of the Manjugosha Stuti Sadhana, this time using the seminar Bhante had given in 1979. These retreats are a training ground for new private preceptors, there were 3 new preceptors and one about to enter the consultation process, and potential new public preceptors. Alongside the study and meditation, the eleven of us tackled topical issues and discussed future developments needed in the US/Canada. The men identified needing to develop the role of men’s Mitra Convenor and the women a new ordination team and further training for the team and new preceptors (private and potential public) i.e. succession planning.
One highlight for me was of course conducting the Public Ordination of Rochelle, especially as it was my first. What a joyous occasion, beautifully hosted by Aryaloka (they have a talent in creating friendship and support) and celebrated by over 80 of us in physical presence and by many others via the live stream across the world. I appreciated sharing the ceremony with Nagabodhi, he being the order member I have known the longest as chair of Aryatara when I first came along to the movement in 1977, who was ordaining Steve Wade. Suddhayu had privately ordained Steve the previous week in the woods of Maine. Rochelle became Medhahshri, and Steve became Chittavan.
The public ordinations kicked off the US/Canadian Order convention. One thing that stood out from that was how much everyone was pleased to be with each other, the joy of meeting other order members from across the US and Canada, a visiting American born Order Member from New Zealand and the three of us from the UK.
After that Karunadevi and I left - Karunadevi back to San Francisco and me to my job in London, UK – whilst Nagabodhi and Dhammarati stayed on to co-lead a weekend retreat on Anapanasati.