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These letters will be published here each month, as well as in Shabda, and preceptorscollege.online, as a means to communicate the ongoing work of the College Chair and updates on current discussions and decisions. Responses are welcomed.
Dear Order members,
I have just been part of witnessing the ordination of Varadhi in Melbourne, on Zoom, along with 106 others. Watching the communication between Maitripala, as Public Preceptor, and Itir / Varadhi, with the Buddha, Avalokitesvara, and Bhante between them, was a strong reminder that the Dharma is a communication rooted in the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha. Especially vivid at this particular time when we are all so much more aware of the uncertainty and dukkha inherent in life.
As Covid-19 began to impact on the world more and more, and the need for restrictions grew, Centre after Centre closed their doors and it became apparent that the long ordination retreats at Akashavana and Guhyaloka would not be able to go ahead. It would have been impossible for most people to be out of contact with family and friends at this time, and I think most felt a degree of relief at the news. It will be an adjustment for those whose ordinations have been postponed, but I’m sure they will continue to Go for Refuge more and more effectively.
Two particular ordinations however needed to go ahead. Gus Miller was not ordained at Guhyaloka last year, as it was not possible for three men from the LBC team to be away for the same four months. Fortunately his private and public preceptors live close by and have worked out a way to manage his ordination – which will hopefully be live-streamed. Itir Binay’s ordination had been due to take place at Akashavana, but as her private preceptor was not going to be able to make the journey, the private ceremony had already taken place in Australia. It was her public ordination that just took place in Melbourne, and the recording of the ceremony has been shared online.
The world has changed; or has it? Covid-19 is having a massive effect on our lives and society, and more is yet to come. It’s a particular kind of a shock to those of us in relatively stable circumstances, who so easily take for granted health, financial security, and the freedom to go where we want. We tend to assume disasters happen to other people and in other places, but when they happen closer to home, to us, or our nearest and dearest, impermanence is suddenly no longer theoretical. My experience in the UK was that all that changed over the course of a few days, and it’s a big wake up call. As well as insecurity, fear and anxiety, there are instances of love and generosity that demonstrate the potential for an alternative reality, and we can be part of encouraging that mode in ourselves, between us, and all around.
In this March letter, I had been going to mention a sequence of retreats at Adhisthana, including a women preceptors’ retreat, and a gathering of UK & Ireland College kulas; both delightfully positive and harmonious. I was going to write about the joy of exploring with other women preceptors the significance of ordination under four headings: the responsibility of being a preceptor; the archetypal guru and the 10 precepts; transformation, purification and beauty in the ordination ceremony; and discipleship as authentic communication. Also the satisfaction of days of meetings with other Public Preceptors, followed by intimate evenings listening to readings from Bhante; five of us talking about an aspect of their lives; poetry with Maitreyabandhu; rejoicing in Kamalashila, following his retirement from the College; and Jnanavaca on the Dharma and physics…
Already by the end of the Area College meeting, the scale of the coming upheaval in the UK and Europe was becoming apparent. Some with further to travel had to leave early; Paramachitta just made it back to Valencia before restrictions were imposed. I left Adhisthana to help my 91-year-old mum prepare for isolation, and then on hearing someone at Adhisthana was now isolated with possible covid-19 symptoms, decided to retreat to my house in South Wales. Many people are facing isolation, financial insecurity, sickness, or death; so far I’m one of the fortunate ones.
I’d like to rejoice in the opportunities made available to us via the Buddhist Centre Online. Candradasa and his team have been hard at work developing channels that mean a flow of relevant Dharma teaching and meditation instruction is available on a daily basis to people isolated at home, which will be a lifeline for many. Order members all over the world are contributing podcasts in several languages; Centres are moving their teaching and local sanghas online.
Today I received an email from an Order member in Spain, describing the stark situation there and wondering whether there was a way in which Order members could come together – virtually – for the Practice of the Arising of the Bodhicitta. It was such a great suggestion a few of us have decided to make it happen. So from tomorrow morning, and continuing for the next couple of months, we are inviting all Order members to join in with a live online practice, to connect us to each other and to our shared aspiration to be of benefit to all beings. To make it possible for any Order member worldwide to take part, the practice will be guided twice every Sunday for different time-zones. For more information about how to participate, visit the Order Stream on The Buddhist Centre Online, or see the message on the Order Information Service.