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A Rainbow of Qualities – celebrating Subhuti by Padmavajra
In the course of the last gathering of public preceptors at Adhisthana in November, Subhuti told us that he had decided to retire from the College of Public Preceptors.
Subhuti has been at the heart of the College from the very beginning. He was the first chairman of the College and has played a leading part in giving the College its form and shape. Subhuti was, in fact, a preceptor before there was even a College, being one of the first order members who Bhante trusted to perform ordinations. Thus, Subhuti’s retirement from the College is momentous for us all. He has been with us, playing a crucial part (as in so many areas of Order life) from the very beginning. Naturally, we wanted to mark Subhuti’s retirement and so we devoted an evening to honour and celebrate Subhuti.
We gathered in ‘The Beams’ around Subhuti who sat in a beautifully decorated chair. Maitreyabandhu, our host for the evening, welcomed us all. Jnanashuri offered flowers and Ratnashila sang a Hindi song on the theme of eternal friendship. Then, a number of us offered our rejoicings.
So many qualities of Subhuti were mentioned: his deep understanding and extensive knowledge of the Dharma; his untiring efforts to develop the Order and movement in so many places throughout the world; his clarity regarding the principles and practices of the Order. We also heard stories of his extraordinary energy and generosity, stories of him giving himself heroically and unstintingly to help others in difficulty, or to restore harmony between people.
A number of us mentioned how much our own understanding and practice of the Dharma has developed from Subhuti’s teaching. In my case I am still drawing on study sessions led by Subhuti decades ago, whether it be the themes he opened up in the Going for Refuge retreats, or study sessions in the College meetings on such topics as the Bodhisattva Precepts, or Vasubandhu’s Thirty Verses. A study session with Subhuti is quite an occasion. When Subhuti teaches there is great intellectual clarity and broad knowledge, but also creative imagination, insight and profound practice. Above all, perhaps, there is the emphasis on practical application in our lives. This was present only a few days before our evening of celebration, with Subhuti deftly opening up The Honeyball Sutta as a means to explore the topic of false and imprisoning views.
We rejoiced too in Subhuti’s love of art and culture and his joy I sharing that love. We spoke about the times, back in Madhyamaloka days, when Subhuti would introduce us to a play of Shakespeare, or of a Bach Passion, before we all went to the performance, thus greatly enhancing our appreciation.
We spoke too of Subhuti’s dedication to help create environments in which people can live a full Dharma life, whether it be in Britain, Spain, India, or more recently in the gypsy community in Hungary, as well as in many other places.
We rejoiced in Subhuti’s sense of humour, sometimes his surreal sense of humour. A number of us noticed how, when you are with Subhuti, the serious, the profound and the funny - even the hilarious - are never very far apart.
Perhaps, the most moving element of the evening was the rejoicing in Subhuti as a personal friend. Everybody who spoke mentioned how much Subhuti had personally helped them, how he had listened to them deeply, understanding their concerns and aspirations, empathising with them deeply and helping them to clarify a way forward. To speak personally here, Subhuti has been present at crucial junctures in my own life. Without his friendship I would not have moved to Padmaloka to join the ordination team. Without him I would not have enjoyed the enriching culture of friendship that he created here, which continues to this day. There have also been times, when feeling tied up in tangle of knotted views about myself, about life and about what I might do, when Subhuti has shone the light of his kindness and intelligence on me, opening up a liberating way forward, giving me confidence and encouragement. There have also been times when Subhuti has given me the opportunity to give voice to, what I can only describe as some of the most intimate areas of my Dharma life, the retreats on Eros and Beauty in the Dharma Life are a testament to that. For that – and for so many things - I am profoundly grateful to Subhuti.
As we sat, so many expressed their gratitude to Subhuti for the many and various gifts he had given them personally and what he had given to the Order and movement. As I sat listening I realised why Bhante had sent his own particular message for me to pass on to Subhuti that evening. The day before, Bhante had given me a very long Tibetan scarf of white silk to present to Subhuti. Bhante gave the scarf to me in a bag of many colours. Bhante carefully explained, as he handed me the bag, that he wanted the bag to be rainbow-coloured to symbolise Subhuti’s very many qualities. He gave this to express his deep appreciation for all that Subhuti had given for so many years. And this is what I told Subhuti as I presented him with the magnificent scarf.
After all the rejoicings and presentations, Subhuti thanked us and communicated his own feelings and reflections on his retirement, evoking the very deep bonds of friendship between us all - bonds of friendship transcending time and space.
Then Parami sang the ‘Song of Meeting and Parting’ by the great yogi Milarepa:
Circling round the Yogi Milarepa
Are the faithful patrons from Nya Non;
Their meeting and their parting
Mark the change of time.
Be well and healthy, dear patrons, as I
Leave for the far mountains for diversion.
May I, the Yogi, make good progress,
And you, my patrons, all live long.
Inspired by the Dharma,
May we soon meet again
In prosperity and boon!
Listening to Parami’s clear, sweet voice singing of meeting and parting, a reflective melancholy arose: time is passing, the world is changing; friends are meeting and parting, so turn ever more deeply to the Dharma.
Our meeting ended with Jnanashuri chanting for Subhuti, the Jayamangala Gatha – the Verses of Blessing, with all of us giving voice to three heartfelt Sadhus.
Thank you Subhuti for all you have given us in the College these many years.
May all blessings be yours and may all gods protect you,
By the power of all the Buddhas may all happiness be yours.