Chairs' Letter - November 2020On Mon, 30 November, 2020 - 23:40
Dear Order members and friends,
Thinking back over my first year as chair of the College: I took on the responsibility in November 2019 as we marked the first anniversary of Bhante’s funeral, and in spite of having been a fairly active Deputy prior to that, it’s still taken some growing into. I wanted more channels of communication with the Order generally, and in January 2020 I began writing these monthly letters.
In March our Area Kulas’ meeting at Adhisthana fizzled out as some public preceptors needed to get home before pandemic lockdowns began. In May, George Floyd was murdered and the lid came off the issue of racial discrimination. The Adhisthana Kula report was finally completed in August, and was presented to the International Council meeting that – along with the Conventions – took place for the first time online.
This November’s College meeting benefitted from our growing experience of online meetings and went remarkably well. Zoom is a great leveller with everyone on their own screen; nearly everyone was able to attend and no long haul flights were involved. Folk were considerate and cooperative, and there were even suggestions that we repeat the experience. We do still need to make more effort to support input from public preceptors whose first language is not English, and to start planning ahead for a future in which not all College members speak English.
I’d like to give you a bit of detail of the meeting itself, so you have an idea of what we get up to, and Akasajoti will be sharing a more detailed meeting summary in the next weeks.
The meeting opened with the Tharpe Delam Guru Yoga led by Padmavajra, and closed with the Kalyana Mitra Yoga led by Sanghadevi. For me that was an expression of locating the responsibility of the public preceptors in relation to our lineage of inspiration. For some of us it meant being up to meditate at 6am, for others it meant staying up to meditate at midnight, and different people have different preferences.
Halfway through the gathering we devoted two days to study, when Subhuti – on excellent form – led us into the Bardo Thodol and through reflections based on the text.
We had to build the meeting around seven time zones, which meant every discussion taking place twice. Generally I chaired one session and Ratnavyuha – conveniently in the other hemisphere – the other; then we shared notes in the form of a short video-call between us recorded for the rest of the College. Individual Kulas worked out their own schedules in between.
We began by hearing from each Area/Kula, as well as from the International Order Convenors. Topics were grouped around the themes of: the responsibility of the College; overlap with other institutions; diversity; ethical matters; and thinking ahead; and included the following:
- We began with a discussion about the ‘authority’ of the College, in fact about the nature of authority in a spiritual community generally and how responsibility is carried out within it. This is a discussion that could usefully take place more widely in the Order and Movement.
- We would still like to see more young people ordained and more diversity within our Order; working groups will be following up each of these areas. We discussed how we might best encourage and support racial diversity in particular and hope to be working in collaboration with the BIPOC/BAME strategy group: there was broad support for a draft proposal they are working on in relation to ordination training.
- In relation to ethical practice, we heard an update on the work of the Ethics Kula. Saddhaloka has been convening working groups (including Order members with a range of relevant expertise and experience) to consider the relationship between Safeguarding and Order ethics, and the implications of ordaining people with serious criminal records. The College was also informed of a conflict procedure underway to consider concerns about a couple of public preceptors, in relation to ex-Satyadhana, raised by a small group of Order members.
- We heard about a new phase of the project taking shape at Adhisthana; we started following up ideas for members of the College to be involved in leading retreats in the future; and we agreed a proposal for an expanded set of eight guidelines, making more explicit the areas of ethics, mythic context, and altruistic dimension of Going for Refuge, as a basis for ordination training.
The meeting had to be very tightly choreographed, but random small group check-ins and informal tea breaks lightened the communication. Akasajoti’s help was invaluable; she made sure everything ran smoothly and aesthetically, and was always ready and willing to respond – even at extreme times of the day/night.
At the beginning of the pandemic I had started meeting weekly with my College Deputies: Amrutdeep, Ratnavyuha, Punyamala and Jnanavaca, and we’ve become much more of a team; I very much appreciate their perspective and support, and have a plan to get them to introduce themselves through this medium…