Saddhanandi: Here I am, back at Taraloka after a two-week absence: visiting family, attending a two-day meeting on mindfulness at Adhisthana, and attending a meditation retreat at Rivendell. All these events were enjoyable and productive, but throughout I was very conscious of the fact that whilst I was away Ratnasuri was leaving Taraloka and beginning a new life in Wrexham – living alone for almost the first time in her 91 years.
Ratnasuri first moved to Taraloka in 1985 as one of the founder members – along with Sanghadevi, and two mitras that became Karunasri and Kulanandi. So she has lived at Taraloka for the last 29 years. You might know her as a poet (a book of her poetry was published in celebration of her ninetieth birthday last year); or as an artist of wood-cuts (particularly of Tara and Vajrayogini); or as a photographer that gave slide-shows in silence on retreat (beautiful heart-opening images); or as the first women’s Public Preceptor (travelling to India to conduct the first Ordinations of women by women); or as a dynamic to-the-point friend and Preceptor; or as an adventurous, creative spirit that continued to expand; or as an old woman, struggling with her increasing blindness and the physical complications of old-age.
There are many sides to Ratnasuri and I’ve lived with all those different aspects for nearly 20 years, and now, as I’m typing this, her room next-door is empty. I shall miss her bright enthusiasm, her tremendous perceptive nature and her great cappuccinos. As I think back over our lives together there are many moments of beauty and friendship:
- her boldness in recognising I was ready to be Ordained after I’d been living with her for only a week!
- our many conversations over coffee discussing poetry, our mutual friends, and the direction of Taraloka
- sitting with her whilst she took the phone call from her son, telling her that her other son had been found dead
- her joyous mudita in publically ordaining someone
- her riding a newly bought scooter around the kitchen just for the fun of it - she was 87 years old at the time!
- explaining to her friends that her new scooter was NOT a disability vehicle as they had assumed, but one that teenagers use on the streets!
- her love of the Order and of Sangharakshita
- her loyalty to Amitabha
- her faithfulness to Vajrayogini: borne out of the realisation (in her eighties) that she needed to focus even more on ‘letting go’
- the poignancy of her descending blindness (as reflected in this poem)
Sometimes, just sometimes
When the light is kind
I see a friend’s expression
The light in her eyes.
It doesn’t even have to be
Just a human being
What a delight that is.
To respond to a smile.
On her last evening here, Ratnasuri and the Taraloka Community sat in the community shrine-room and did a metta bhavana that focused on Ratnasuri and the step she was about to make. Then, whilst the Amitabha mantra was chanted, Ratnasuri moved around the room silently bowing to each individual and then she left, leaving only her absence and the strong presence of change.
A week later she is settling into her new flat. Ratnasuri’s connection with Taraloka is as strong as ever, but it’s now at a distance. Without the busyness of community life, she’s enjoying greater simplicity and stillness and she’s looking forward to a more reflective life-style which was the original vision behind her decision to leave Taraloka.
We all wish her well in this courageous step - sadhu! sadhu! sadhu!
Verses to Amitabha by Ratnasuri
Amitabha of infinite light;
I worship you with the golden light of the setting sun.
Glancing and glittering on the silken sea.
I worship you with the soft translucent light that filters through the petals of flowers.
Again I worship you with the light that reflects on the tiny beads of dew that collects on the roses in the early morn.
Amitabha I bow down to you, with the inner light of meditation to you who are the essence of stillness in meditation.
Mantra: Om Amideva Hrih
Going For Refuge
OM. I go for Refuge to you Amitabha, and with you Go for Refuge to the Buddha Shakyamuni.
AH. I go for Refuge to you Amitabha, and with you Go for Refuge to the Dharma.
HUM. I go for Refuge to you Amitabha, and with you Go for Refuge to the Sangha.
To enable all beings to attain Buddhahood I shall develop the supreme Bodhicitta.
May sentient beings possess happiness with its causes.
Be parted from grief with its causes.
Not be parted from happiness wherein no grief is, and shall dwell in the condition of equanimity.
OM. Under the power of unawareness. In whatever way I have strayed from Amitabha. I confess. OMAMIDEVAHRIH.
OM. I confess all broken samaya of body. I prostrate and give praise to your body.
AH. I confess all broken samaya of speech. I prostrate and give praise to your speech.
HUM. I confess all broken samaya of mind. I prostrate and give praise to your mind.