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Dear Order members,
Two weeks ago the International Conventions were held online for the first time, and seem to have been very successful – and remarkably relaxed, given how much work was going on behind the scenes; well done Lokeshvara and Aryajaya! I won’t list all my favourite bits but the Forgiveness ritual led by Malini stood out for me personally, given Malini’s gravitas as our senior most woman OM, her particular approach, and the subject of forgiveness.
Now an experimental International Council meeting is just underway; online for the first time and involving a complex spreadsheet of two groupings of eight timezones, six Area Councils and a Steering Group, and three Strands. Hats off to our two facilitators Singhashri and Arthavadin, as well as Akasajoti and the Buddhist Centre Online; we’re being very well organised, with lots of catch up homework between online sessions.
Since our IC meeting at Bhaja four years ago, we’ve included a daily session of Dharma input and sharing of personal practice in small groups. This time we are exploring elements of the Bodhicitta practice, which still seems especially relevant as the Order aspires to engage with this particular time of suffering in the world. You can watch this series of short dharma presentations on the International Council space on TBCO.
It was apparent from members reporting in at the start of the meeting that many areas are facing considerable challenges including Covid 19, race issues, and the effects of climate change. It’s striking the degree of polarisation in the world surrounding responses to all these issues. On the other hand the characteristic of the world in general is a polarised experience of self and other, enflamed by greed and hatred, so maybe it’s not that surprising.
That tendency to polarisation is naturally going to manifest within our sangha; hopefully less than in the world generally, but an indication of how far we’ve come – and how much further there is to go if we are going to be a significant force for the good.
Of course harmony in our sense of the word does not mean conformity, as Bodhilila (and Maitreyi before her) expressed using the metaphor of music. My sense of this particular IC meeting (although it’s early days) is that people are willing to express their view and feelings, and listen to and want to understand those of others, without reactivity. Hopefully this will mean that any outcomes from the meeting are rooted in real consensus, and will be effective.
I’d love to share some of my reflections about the process of developing harmony, but I first need to acknowledge that it’s still work in progress as far as I’m concerned: I’m currently working with some feedback I’ve received personally, as well as criticism of the College generally.
Working with Order members in conflict situations I’ve started asking ‘why do you think the other person / other people are so upset?’ This seems to be an effective short cut to an imaginative and empathetic connection with the experience of the other(s) involved, and is usually pretty accurate.
I have been keen to follow up conversations with four of the five Order members who wrote to me with concerns arising out of my last two Chair’s letters, and my experience in all cases was that we had useful and interesting exchanges. I began to wonder whether it might be possible for Order members with apparently opposing views to pair up and record a zoom discussion – which they might then feel willing to share with others – and one person I suggested this to said they might be up for it. This could be another way to model good communication.
I’m a little embarrassed to be announcing – again – that the Adhisthana Kula summary report is finally written, and we will be presenting it to the International Council in a couple of days, and inviting the first round of feedback. We will soon be able to make it available to the Order generally – and beyond.
As well as five of us here being involved with the IC meeting, Adhisthana has gradually been able to open the doors again, initially to people doing solitary retreats, but now to a retreat of 10 reflecting on the Diamond Sutra with Vajrapriya; it’s a delight to have that taking place.