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During the March Area College gathering for the UK, Ireland and Europe, Kamalashila attended for an evening to have a farewell following his retirement from the Preceptors’ College at the end of last year. He was able to share some of his current threads of practice and inspiration, and a number of those present rejoiced in him. Here we share two of those contributions from Sanghadevi and Satyaraja.
I have been with Kamalasila in meetings of the College and originally of the College cum College Council since about 1995. Back then we used to spend two one month periods a year together at Madhyamaloka; the smaller body of initially 5 Public preceptors with the larger body of the Council comprising Public preceptors and Centre Presidents, of which Kamalasila was one. In time most of the Presidents were invited to become Public Preceptors, and most accepted the invite, including Kamalasila.
Kamalasila is a very generous person. Over the years I’ve observed his responsiveness, his generosity manifesting in various ways. A couple of memories from those early days; we didn’t always have a cook available to support our one month at home periods at Madhyamaloka. I remember Kamalasila having a real flair for knocking up a simple tasty meal for all of us very quickly between the lengthy daily meetings morning and afternoon which we all participated in. He was grounded, relaxed and focused in the kitchen and just got on with the meal prep very efficiently.
Another memory was at the end of one of our retreat periods; Subhuti had been leading and asked that we bring along to the final puja a gift from amongst our personal possessions for each person on the retreat. I was really struck by the gifts Kamalasila gave. Two I particularly recall were a beautiful mandala set he gave to Subhuti and a mala he gave to me. He had made the mala from amber beads he had brought home from Estonia. It was very light to handle and warm to the touch and a lovely yellow orange colour. As a Manjughosa devotee I still treasure this mala.
Recently I have had the opportunity to be on retreat with Kamalasila for extended periods; first there was 3 mths on the Gower retreat where he made a significant contribution to the quality of our collective mantra chanting through teaming up with Karunachitta on many evenings with drums and cymbals and creating rythmns that encouraged us to relax and give ourselves more fully to the chanting. Then more recently I was with him for a month at Maes Gwyn. Here I saw Kamalasila in his natural element; in wild nature, in a meditative context. This two month retreat grew out of his vision of having more on offer in Triratna to support people to meditate in retreat for longer periods of time. Kamalasila was leading the retreat; ‘holding the space’ for the rest of us to get on with our meditation undisturbed.
The deal was that during the day, and for some of the evening sessions too, we followed our own threads of interest and inspiration with no teaching input, however on several evenings each week Kamalasila would feed in enriching and stimulating material principally through the medium of sadhana like pujas or puja like sadhanas where his sense of rhythm and play ensured that our mantra recitation took off instead of fading out fast. He also introduced teachings from Milarepa and shared with us his reflections on them. There were readings from other sources too on topics such as preparation for death. Then there were bi-weekly meditation reviews and a weekly get together for an hour after supper of the whole retreat with Kamalasila to share with each other and him how we were getting on. He was earthed, relaxed, spontaneous and interested in how we were all doing on the retreat, and his manner of teaching was inviting, inquiring, empowering , which I appreciated. And he printed off copies of everything he introduced, including full colour images to accompany several of the pujas we did. All this he did on his little printer. I thought this very generous of him…goodness knows how many ink cartridges he went through over the course of those two months.
This Maes Gwyn retreat is the latest in a whole number of retreats Kamalasila has led over the years. Leading or co-leading meditation retreats is one of his major contributions to our Order and movement. Also since being in the College he initiated monthly Order gatherings at the WLBC open to OM’s from anywhere who were interested in coming together with him to discuss meditation and dharma. These events have proved popular and still continue.
Kamalasila began the process of sorting out all the different practices in the so called ‘Sadhana Box’ which Bhante handed over to him in Madhyamaloka days. The fruit of his and others work is now available on the private and Public Preceptors’ webpages.
In general in College meetings over the years Kamalasila has been one of the people to raise topics or feed in thoughts, reflections, observations pertaining to meditation in our community. In November 2016 meeting he presented a paper entitled ‘Guardianship of deep practice’ which merits revisiting. Meanwhile the recent retreat at Maes Gwyn was a concrete offering by him to supporting deep practice in the Order which I had the good fortune to benefit from.
The last thing I would like to rejoice in is the fact that in Dec 1985 Bhante asked Kamalasila along with Subhuti and Suvajra to go to India and conduct on his behalf the ordinations of some 20 indian men. Kamalasila who was an anagarika at that time conducted all the Public Ordinations. As Subhuti says in his book Bringing Buddhism to the West; ‘the ceremonies were conducted with complete success, no-one doubted the validity of the ordinations, in fact everyone rejoiced that the spiritual vitality of the Movement had been expressed in this way.’ The following year Srimala, Ratnasuri and Padmasuri completed the process by performing the ordinations of 2 Indian women, again on Bhantes’ behalf. These 22 ordinations in India paved the way for Bhantes’ eventual handing on of the full responsibility for ordinations worldwide to a body of his disciples. So we have a lot to thank Kamalasila and the others for ; despite never having been to India, he and they, rose to the occasion and did as Bhante requested.
Sadhu ! Sadhu ! Sadhu !