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This time of year at Tiratanaloka is quite magical; we’ve had days of hard frost and bright sunshine, and today, driving into Brecon with Kalyacitta for a swim, a huge arc of a rainbow, its colours pale and muted against the rainclouds, cast an otherworldly light on the green hills.
There’s a post-ordination retreat taking place in the Retreat Centre currently; twelve dharmacharinis who were ordained at Akashavana last summer. At this end of the building in the community, a few of us are at home, soon going out to the local cinema for the film club night. Candraprabha, our new chair is on the chairs assembly at Adhisthana, where Vajratara is also, chairing an India Dharma Trust meeting for the day. Santavajri has gone for a singing lesson in Cardiff, Karunadhi is away visiting her partner and her mother in Colchester. Amritamati is on the post-ordination retreat, having been on the team of the Akashavana retreat earlier this year. It’s a time of less intensity, after a very full retreat over Xmas and the New Year and another beginning in a few days on the first chapter of Sangharakshita’s Survey of Buddhism. On the winter retreat there were women from the UK, Lithuania, France, Russia, Mexico, Romania and Sweden, some living in this country, some travelling many miles to be here. I was invited to the New Year’s Eve puja where there were three resplendent shrines; Vajrasattva in the shrine room, a ‘death’ shrine and a Tree of Aspiration in the conservatory and Dhardo Rimpoche’s stupa in the garden, lit by candlelight against the night sky. And mince pies and spiced apple juice, the apple juice a gift to the retreat from our neighbours at the farm across the way. They make vast quantities each autumn and supply the businesses in the local area.
For those of you reading this who have never been here, Tiratanaloka is in the Brecon Beacons National Park, between a small village called Talybont-on-Usk (or Tal-y-bont ar Wsyg in Welsh) and the Talybont reservoir. There’s a stream at the bottom of the field below us that runs into the river Usk, and becomes a strongly flowing river when the reservoir overflows. We are very fortunate in the location of the Retreat Centre and community house; there are walks in all directions, by the river and the canal, beside the reservoir, in the woods and forests and up into the hills of the Beacons in the wildness and the expanse of sky.
Our community and team of eight - Amritamati, Candraprabha, Kalyacitta, Karunadhi, Maitreyi, Santavajri, Vajrasakhi and Vajratara - run both the retreats and the Retreat Centre, so everyone does the practical work of servicing the project as well as the work of leading retreats as a team. It means that our lives here are very much woven together, we depend a lot on each other and look out for each other. There are six Private Preceptors on the team, four having been appointed in the last couple of years, and I am also a Public Preceptor.
At the last count 1,042 women outside of India (and well over a thousand in India) have requested ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order. For the last few years there have been over a hundred ordination requests each year and thirty to forty new Dharmacharinis (outside India) ordained each year, so there is an exponential rise in the number of women wanting to commit themselves to living a Dharma life in the context of the Triratna Buddhist Order. There have been ongoing ordination training retreats for many years in the United States, the Pacific region and the Spanish-speaking world, as well as Germany and the Low Countries, but the majority of these one thousand or so women mitras see Tiratanaloka as their main resource for ordination training retreats, along with Taraloka which holds meditation retreats for women who have requested ordination.
This exponential rise in the number of requests, combined with a finite amount of space at Tiratanaloka means that we need to keep finding creative responses to what is a heartening challenge. Last year the team, with help of other Dharmacharinis ran two concurrent retreats, one at Adhisthana with seventy retreatants and one at Tiratanaloka with twenty retreatants, thus ensuring that everyone who wished to actively engage with their ordination request could attend at least one Going for Refuge retreat that year. This year we will again be running a ‘Six Guidelines” retreat at Adhisthana, this time with most of the team and the help of other Dharmacharinis, and space for up to one hundred women.
We are also continuing to deepen connections and friendships with other teams of Dharmacharinis running Going for Refuge retreats across the world. This initiative started with an ‘international ‘ retreat - mainly involving women from mainland Europe which was held at Mettavihara in Holland. This year, Amritamati and Candraprabha will join an East Coast team of dharmacharinis for their Going for Refuge retreat at Aryaloka in the States. For many years, there has been a Spanish-speaking or German-speaking group on one of the Tiratanaloka retreats - occasionally both on the same retreat! The team here is very keen to encourage greater internationality on the retreats; there is one advantage in the fall of sterling in that it will now be cheaper for women from mainland Europe, Ireland and the States to come on our retreats.
An important event last year was a retreat in the summer on which we invited Dharmacharinis from different regions of the UK to explore how we could work together in a more joined-up way to develop ordination training. There will be a follow-up retreat this November studying together to form what could be a basis of regional Going for Refuge events that would supplement and support the retreats at Tiratanaloka. Everyone was in agreement on the importance of a more intensive retreat context at Tiratanaloka as well as the benefit of more activities locally.
A significant event also was Vajrasakhi stepping down as chair early in the year. The fruits of her dynamic chairmanship are visible all around at Tiratanaloka. She has an ability to come up with creative, sometimes radical, ideas and follow them through and is willing to spend the money required in the confidence that it will keep coming in in sufficient amounts! As a result over the years we have gained a new (and quiet) conservatory roof, a fully insulated community house, a wood pellet heating system for the whole building so that our heating costs are very low and we no longer use any oil. Once we have switched to a green electricity supplier, we should be getting our Triratna Eco certificate! A beautiful new community shrine room is also being built, looking out over the garden and the wooded hillside beyond. Candraprabha became our new chair just a few weeks ago after having been on a six-month sabbatical, and stepped in with clarity and grace. In the evening ritual she led the Mandala practice, so we started off this new phase of Tiratanaloka with gratitude and transference of merits.
I will end with one of the highlights of last year; studying extracts from the Udana during our most recent community week with Dhammadinna our president. Dhammadinna was present at the original study seminar which Sangharakshita led in a tent in Cornwall in 1974 and she conveyed her experience of it all so vividly, complete with a photo of Bhante seated cross-legged in the tent, with long hair and a steady gaze expounding the Dharma. It was great study, and in the course of it a whole mythic dimension of the early years of the Order emerged, together with a strong sense of Bhante as both friend and teacher; vigorous, impassioned and lucid.
For more information and for photos, see our website tiratanaloka.org.uk (new and improved).