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Joining the College of Public Preceptors turned out to be quite a long drawn out process for me. Nagabodhi had asked me over ten years ago, but I was not willing to take on additional responsibilities in the Movement until I had left full-time employment. The College of Public Preceptors agreed to my appointment as a Public Preceptor in September last year, so I planned a substantial block of time away from New Zealand: to get to my first College meeting in March at Adhisthana; take part in a men’s going for refuge retreat at Padmaloka; and perform my first public ordination while at Guhyaloka. Above all it was an opportunity to renew contacts and friendships with friends in the Good Life, many of whom I have known since the 1970’s.
I spent a couple of weeks at Adhisthana, mostly for the March College meeting but also just to spend time there. I had not been to Adhisthana before and was very impressed with it. It’s far bigger than I imagined, and I was taken with how friendly and welcoming the people there were. There seems to be a definite feeling of something other-worldly about the place as well. It became clear to me how much the College meetings are needed for important business like overseeing the ordination processes, clarifying principles within the Order and Bhante’s particular presentation of the Dharma, and establishing good communication and ways of working together amidst the increasing cultural and social diversity of the Order. While these are important business, I felt what seemed to be underlying most of our contact was just getting to know and trust each other on human and spiritual levels. Sometimes having a meal or a walk with someone was just as significant as any discussion in formal meetings.
Personally I was very inspired by a couple of days of study with Subhuti during the March College meeting, where we explored the richness and deeper levels of significance of what we are working with in sadhana practice. This was done specifically in reference to the Manjughosha Stuti Sadhana but the principles applied to any visualization practice, not just to that specific form.
While at Adhisthana I had a really lovely meeting with Sangharakshita. I had last seen him in 2008 at Madhyamaloka. It’s funny I was expecting to find him really old. He is, but there was something else about him that affected me almost in a physical sense. I felt quite tearful both during and afterwards, joyful tearful. He seemed almost translucent or ethereal, like we weren’t quite meeting on a normal human plane. He is still impressively clear intellectually and quite aware of current happenings around the Movement.
Books have always held an important place in my life, and it was with some interest that while I was at Adhisthana I began exploring the Sangharakshita Collection. Vague wandering around soon settled into a specific search for two areas of interest: the early history of the Order in New Zealand and a translation of a Tibetan text by Sangharakshita. With the very capable and willing help of Satyalila, boxes of the early Order newsletter ‘Shabda’ were pulled out and I was soon able to retrieve an account by Bhante of his first trip to New Zealand. The second set of treasures was found in a 1960 edition of ‘The Middle Way’. I was after a translation by Sangharakshita of ‘The Three Chief Paths of Tsongkhapa’. Though many other translations have since been published, this was probably the first time any of the works of the founder of the Gelug-pa had been made available in English and I remembered it as having been done at the special request of the Dalai Lama. (You can read the translation here).
I stayed at Padmaloka for a couple of weeks, mainly to connect with the ordination team and attend a Men’s GFR retreat on ‘What is the Order”. I had known Padmavajra since we both lived in India together in the 1980’s and found him delightful company. We share interests in Islamic mysticism and some of the wilder aspects of Vajrayana deities. With who else could I share reflections on the imaginal mysticism of Ibn ‘Arabi or stories of unsettling encounters with Dorje Drollo in Bhutan? Padmaloka has changed a lot since I was last there, probably more than ten years ago. The shrine room is stunning. A few of the Aloka paintings I had not been that taken with seeing them in pictures, but the overall effect of the original paintings there in the context of the shrine room is really quite special. It gave me a taste of what could be achieved longer term at Sudarshanaloka, our retreat Centre in New Zealand.
One of the main points of my travels was having the privilege of taking Achalamuni’s public ordination at Guhyaloka. It all went very smoothly, and seemed a natural extension of the relationship ex-Donald, Ratnavyuha and I had been building for some years. It was a delight to be back at Guhyaloka again. The last time I was there was 1988. Interestingly Ratnaghosha who was attending the current retreat as a private preceptor, was ordained on the retreat in 1988, so we had a few reminiscences about the changes the valley has gone through. The biggest impact is the size of the trees and how much greener the valley seems. Arthapriya is a very capable retreat leader, the right combination of strictness, playfulness and an enormous capacity for friendliness.