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Before becoming a public preceptor I had the feeling that one of the most joyful aspects would be putting the kesa around someone’s neck, seeing the joy in their faces, ritually pouring water on the crown of their heads, an action so ancient and so beyond the mundane that you can’t help but connect with something much larger than ordinary life.
And so it is: A beautiful day in June in the heart of England, in the mythical atmosphere created in Adhisthana, six women prepare to enter the Triratna Buddhist Order. They file in, dressed in blue, followed by their public preceptors. A scene witnessed many times before but this time three of the women are from Mexico and three from Spain. They have been on a ten day ordination retreat conducted in Spanish and will have their public ceremony also in Spanish. It will be translated into English for the 100 plus audience who have come to Adhisthana. And this is actually a first. While there have been many ordination ceremonies of non-English speakers and a few Going for Refuge retreats in Spanish during which ordinations have taken place, this is the first time an entire ordination retreat has been conducted in Spanish. Another giant step in establishing the Triratna Buddhist Order in the Spanish-speaking world.
As a relatively recent member of the College of Public Preceptors, let me say a bit more about myself and my work. A year after my ordination, Parami and I visited Moksananda in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain, and decided we would leave the London Buddhist Centre, where we had been living and working, and go to join him and others and together establish the Order and Movement in that country. So in the summer of 1992 we set off to start our new life.
It was a huge decision - to give up so much of what we both enjoyed in the Sangha in London; to learn a new language and establish ourselves in another country with its own culture and so on. But we were both committed to the idea of making the Dharma more accessible, more culturally diverse and to share Bhante ‘s Bodhisattva vision with more and more people in the world.
I was born in India into a south Indian family who had to emigrate to the UK. I grew up in London, in what many Londoners today are proud to call a multicultural city. My experience during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was not so positive. It left it’s mark on me but it is also what moved me in later life, working in a community law centre, to struggle for equality of opportunity and to value diversity. So the question of overcoming barriers and communicating across cultures has always been of the utmost importance and immediacy. When I came to the LBC It felt important to work with others to create a more welcoming atmosphere for people of colour to enter and to find activities which would help them integrate into what was a very white situation. Not surprisingly, Bhante’s message of the Dharma as being truly universal together with his personal belief that any human being could communicate with any other human being regardless of nationality, race, gender, religion struck a vital chord and continues to inspire me.
In a way, given my family background, it was not so difficult to imagine living and working in another country. But of course it was not easy and we had to overcome many difficulties and frustrations, especially in the early years. What made it possible was our inspiration and faith in bringing about a new society, working as a team so that between us we could communicate the spirit of Triratna. After 25 years in Spain, so much has been achieved that has come out of the cooperation of so many people. There is a flourishing Sangha and a strong mitra presence with more than 20 men and women preparing for ordination.
One of the most inspiring aspects of this work has been seeing the growth of the order and movement in Mexico as my work has come to focus on the ordination process for women, especially the Spanish speakers. This grew out from Valencia and now includes other parts of Spain and of course Latin America. Someone will have the real statistics but after English and Mandarin Chinese, Spanish is the language spoke by more people in the world. There is a whole world out there whose only access will be the dharma communicated in their language. For now, I have only been able to be involved with Mexico city. I visit annually to support the ordination process for the nearly 40 women who want to go for refuge in our order. I run going for refuge retreats, support the women’s wing of the Order there and am a private and public preceptor to some of them. I am also very involved with one of the newest centres to open outside Mexico City in Cuernavaca.
There is of course so much still to do. One of the biggest tasks is translating the incredible amount of material accessible to English speakers that augment their personal contact with Order members, satisfy their curiosity, answer their doubts and generally widen their horizons. To really make internationality one of our newer pillars of the Order and Movement, more resources are needed so that we can truly say that any member of our community can communicate with any other and receive the full benefits of a life lived in the Dharma.