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Over the last few years, there have been significant developments in the College in Australia and New Zealand with new public preceptors being appointed and the development of ordination training within those areas. So we asked Dharmanandi, Purna and Maitripala to write about their work -
Dharmanandi writes about the early years of women’s ordination training in New Zealand and Australia
The Going For Refuge process for women started in New Zealand in the early 1980s. Jayasri was ordained in the UK by Bhante around 83/84. After her return we enjoyed small weekend retreats with her. My enduring memory is of six of us sitting around a rather slow burning wood fire in a small cottage up in the hills to the West of Auckland, sharing our life stories. One by one we mitras became Dharmanandi, Punyasri, Varadevi, Navachitta and Guhyaprabha.
I was ordained by Bhante in June 1986 in a small cottage in the Norwich countryside. For me it was an integrating experience, bringing all the many strands of my life together and I emerged from it wanting to aid other women to have that same chance, that same experience. The Going For Refuge process became the focus of my Order Life and though I am now retired from active precepting it remains a deep and abiding interest.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, so I could further my understanding of how we here, on the other side of the world, could move forward, I visited the UK frequently and was on two or three of the early GFR and Ordination retreats at Taraloka, working alongside Anoma, Samata, Dhammadinna Ashokasri and then the first women Preceptors, Srimala, Sanghadevi and Ratnasuri.
Seeing how beneficial it was for women from all over the UK, and some also from Europe, to meet and practice together, I started to imagine us joining with Australia. There were GFR women in Sydney. How would it be if we all met for retreats? When I shared this idea with a Sydney Dharmacharini I met with stiff resistance. Once back in New Zealand we came at it in a different way we invited the Sydney women to join one of our National GFR retreats. I recall my pleasure when Caroline, now Nagasuri, responded, and came to New Zealand to join a GFR retreat. It was a start and has developed from there. Sanghadevi visited to attend the Australasian retreats for several years and helped to guide the team and was also Private Preceptor to a number of women The Australasian GFR retreats are now an important part of our landscape with a strong, experienced and harmonious Australasian Team and Preceptors both Private and Public who work across the region. Both countries also run smaller National Retreats each year.
In the early part of this century Megha, back from her work around the LBC, and I were both asked to be Private Preceptors. Megha ordained her first 2 women around 2003 and I ordained two New Zealand women at Il Convento, set in the beautiful Tuscan landscape, in 2004. From such small beginnings we were now ordaining women. Megha, and I became Public Preceptors around 2005 and Megha again led the way, Publicly ordaining two women at the end of an Australasian GFR retreat held at Vijayaloka, the retreat centre just outside Sydney. Varadevi soon joined as a third Public Preceptor.
In 2007 we ran an Ordination Retreat, a month long, in the South Island of New Zealand, in an area known as Golden Bay, ordaining 8 women. We have now held 5 such retreats.
Women from Australasia are now either ordained at Akashavana or at Golden Bay.
The decision of where is always complex, with many factors to weigh up and because of the distance, personal and Sangha resources are one of those factors.
I want to end by thanking all the Dharmacharinis who I have worked with; working in a team is always a highlight for me and I learn so much from others. Also I have deep gratitude for those, including Bhante, who have supported and encouraged us to set up a viable GFR and Ordination process for the Australasian women.
Purna writes about helping men to prepare for ordination in Australia and New Zealand
Retreats for men training for ordination in the Australia-New Zealand area are normally offered as a combined Australia-New Zealand retreat every year. These are usually held around January, alternating between Vijayaloka outside of Sydney and Sudarshanaloka in New Zealand. Over the years we have formed a substantial team of mostly private preceptors that meet together before the training retreat. Between us we have a lot of experience of working with men training for ordination.
In addition to the combined Australia-New Zealand retreat, in the last few years we have also been offering around September ‘national’ retreats for men training for ordination. These more local retreats are mostly aimed at the men within each country. The September retreats have been created as more of a context for newer mitras and being smaller, offer a context for getting a broader range of local OM’s involved.
As of 2018, there are around 30 men actively training for ordination in Australia and New Zealand. This training process is supported by 11 private preceptors from this region and currently Nagabodhi, Purna and Ratnavyuha as public preceptors. The mix of Order members and mitras involved in the training for ordination process is dynamic as men get ordained and new private and public preceptors get appointed or retire. In 2018 four men were ordained from this area, during 2017 one, and in 2016 seven men.
Both the combined Australia-New Zealand retreats and the national retreats are aimed at covering the basics of what men joining the Order need to be familiar with, such as what the Order Is, the implications of Going for Refuge, the ethical base of the ten precepts they will be expected to observe as an Order member, the Transcendental Principle, the mythical context, and the importance of spiritual friendship. These retreats also allow an opportunity for the area preceptors, especially the public preceptors on the combined Australia-New Zealand retreats, to get to know the men better.
The history of retreats for men training for ordination in Australia and New Zealand goes back to the first GFR retreat initiated by Subhuti in late 1990 at a place called Awhitu near Auckland. Sona then volunteered to visit regularly to set up the ordination training for men in the area, starting in 1995 at Awhitu. These retreats were then held annually alternating between New Zealand and Australia. Nagabodhi, who had been a regular visitor to New Zealand since the late 1980’s and President of Auckland and Wellington since 1992, joined Sona to help run these retreats. There was a period of about ten years when Sona could not make it to these retreats and they were then led by Nagabodhi and Buddhadasa.
The men in this area have a debt of gratitude to Sona, Nagabodhi and Buddhadasa for the enormous contribution they have made to the Dharma in this region over a large span of years. These early visitors played an important role in keeping us in touch with and helping absorb developments in the wider Movement. They gave a taste of that indefinable quality of Sangha and Kalyana Mitrata that is unique to what Triratna offers.
With the retirement of Buddhadasa, Sona’s plans to retire, and what we hope is the appointment of Siladasa as a Public Preceptor in the near future, we are in for a few changes. With the men’s retreats being overseen by growing numbers of locally resident preceptors, we may see an increasing emphasis in the Australia-New Zealand area in terms not just of ordination training but longer ordination retreats. We have always had local ordinations in small numbers, but nothing like the comprehensive ordination and post-Ordination experience offered at Guhyaloka. One of the attractions for the men from this area getting to Guhyaloka has been the exposure to a wider Order context and the building of connections from others from outside the area. This need for wider experience and connection will need to be balanced with any term plans to develop longer ordination retreats in the area.
Maitripala writes about her involvement with the College’s work in Australia and New Zealand
Although only becoming a Public Preceptor this year, I have been working closely with Megha, Australia’s only female Public Preceptor, for a while. Megha has valiantly and effectively carried out her responsibilities in Australia for many years, largely alone, and it has become clear a new generation is needed to step up and carry on her great work. Dharmanandi and Varadevi from New Zealand, alongside Megha, have also contributed many years to representing our region at College meetings and initiating and steering the local women’s Ordination retreat program. We will be celebrating Dharmanandi’s contribution as she retires from her Public Preceptor duties this year. We are also very happy that Malini, from New Zealand, has recently become a Public Preceptor in our region. And our region’s kula has been very well supported over the years by Parami, Sanghadevi and Ratnadharini.
And it is growing…
We hope to welcome Sudrishti from Australia and Vajrajyoti from New Zealand to the Public Preceptor kula very soon when their consultation process is finished. So the on-going future of the women’s training for Ordination process in our region is looking very promising.
I feel very fortunate to be able to put my energies full time into working for the growth of the Order in our region. I gained support to do this role via funding from the College, the FutureDharma Fund and donations to Australia’s Preceptors fund for women.Whilst I currently attend to many of the administrative tasks involved in organising women’s training for Ordination GFR retreats for our region, I am also free to visit outlying small groups to support lone Order Members and step in when kalyana mitrata is needed if difficulties arise within a sangha. Mentoring young dharma practitioners who have taken on responsibilities for their local sangha is an activity I really enjoy. This project is called ‘KM 4 Australia’ and is partially funded by FutureDharma Fund. Activities in our region often require travel of great distances to or from Australia and New Zealand. Or within our own country…….I believe Australia is 31 times larger than the UK in land mass! Our Regional training for Ordination team members meet in Sydney after traveling from places such as Wellington, Auckland, Melbourne or Kempsey. It could cost a mitra approx. A$550 (£307) for the airfare to come on a GFR retreat. Therefore, we have come up with a system to share the airfare costs evenly amongst all mitras who attend Regional GFR retreats.
Within our region we have two training for ordination teams – one based in Australia and the other in New Zealand. I provide a link for the two teams and endeavour to keep clear communication channels that will aide commonality of practice and training. Recently a Steering Kula for Ordination Training (SKOT) team was formed - made up of Varadevi, Vajrajyotii, Malini, Megha, Sudrishtri and myself. The SKOT team is responsible for deciding on the team participants for each women’s GFR retreat as well as the theme and timing of the retreats.
Over a number of years we offer a rotating range of opportunities for women training for Ordination. These include:
- National retreats held in each country
- Regional retreats open to all GFR mitras from New Zealand or Australia.
- Going Deeper invitation only retreats for experienced GFR mitras.
- Ordination retreats held in Golden Bay New Zealand when required
We cover the same themes that are offered at Tiratanaloka with the aim of building a degree of commonality of practice and training even though our countries are great distances apart.
It is important our Public Preceptors are represented at College meetings in the UK and International Council events. Without support this actually requires a large time and money commitment for individuals in our region. Where possible it is very important for us to be able to have our travel costs covered for these events. We deeply appreciate those sangha members who donate to the College fund enabling our participation in these vital aspects of Order life. Not only do we receive great benefits for our region but we believe with our involvement we can also offer a rich contribution and diversity in return.