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In this first blog on the inspirational personal talks in the Women Elders of the Triratna Buddhist Community series on Free Buddhist Audio, Gabi Thesing, a GFR Mitra from Cambridge, describes her response to Dhammadinna’s very moving account of the early days of Triaratna and how the Dharma and the friends she has made have kept her inspired for almost 50 years.
Dhammadinna has been ordained for almost as long as I have been alive. When she was ordained in 1973, I was 1.
By the time I rocked up at the London Buddhist Centre in 2015, stressed and in need of some direction, it was thanks to her tireless and pioneering work over these years that I had a centre to go to, the opportunity to go deeper as a Mitra, go on retreats and to go to the Tiratnaloka centre to train for ordination.
It’s easy to take all of that for granted now but her 2011 talk is a reminder that it took these strong women to build it all from nothing. At a time when society had very different ideas of how woman should live.
Even though she came of age in the counter culture era of the 60s when everything seemed possible, she talks about how her mother told one of her friends at one point how Dhammadinna was wasting her life - no husband, no children and wasting her education. These were ( and often are) still the yard sticks by which a woman’s life’s success is measured. (She and her mother became very close in the last years of her life, thanks to the nudge of a friend who told her she had to mend her relationship with her mother.)
And Dhammadinna and her dharma sisters turned their backs on those conventions. While this is often easy when you are young and inspired by great and new and shiny ideas, the big questions for me when I was mulling my own ordination request were: How do you keep it going? Over a lifetime? When your fellow dharma farers get on your nerves? When you are exhausted? When parents get old and need care?
Dhammadinna ‘’started out being very inspired by the Bodhisattva ideal, and I’m still very inspired by that. I still believe that we as a community, if we engage intensely with each other, in whatever way we do that and create harmony amongst us’’…’’something else comes into being.’’(about 30 sec audio clip at 52 minutes)
She was given the Green Tara at her ordination and that connection has endured. Talk of meditating ‘’every day’’ also gives a clue to how to find the very deep inner resources that have kept her practice and inspiration alive and helped her cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs. While I’d like to see myself as an every-day-meditator, the reality is very different even though I know full well hat my own life runs better when I do a sit every day.
Another theme is friendship, which is not surprising, this being Triratna. Dhammadinna said in the talk she is still friends with people she made at her first Triratna retreat (then the FWBO) in 1970, when she was 24.
Even though she had had a strong interest in Buddhism before, meeting Bhante at that retreat set the course of her life - despite his rather unorthodox appearance with long hair, big side burns and ‘’he was wearing pretty grubby orange robes, a polo neck jumper and slippers.’’
The first lecture on the Eight Fold Path resonated deeply with her, ‘’I was feeling I received the dharma’s truth’’ and ‘’I haven’t been the same since.’’ She found the fact that Bhante listened to his own lecture on reel-to-reel (a recording /playing device) and laughed at his own jokes ‘’rather endearing.’’
She got involved, helped set up the first centre in Archway and the surrounding communities and got ordained in 1973 where she was given the name Dhammadinna, Giver of the Dharma
(about 1.5 minutes from 15:27 minutes is a nice clip about her )
Dhammadinna became the first women’s mitra convenor, travelling the length and breadth of the country, taught in New Zealand and helped set up Tiratnaloka, the women’s ordination training retreat centre in the 90s and became a private and public preceptor ‘’serving the order and Bhante.’’
She shaped the order but also witnessed some its upheavals in the early 2000s when the fallout from Bhante’s sexual relationships with some of his disciples caused much ‘’turmoil, unhappiness, anger, upset, but also creativity.’’ (30 secs at 47 minutes)
For Dhammadinna, quitting was never an option: ‘’We’re not perfect, I’m not perfect, no-one’s perfect, the movement is not perfect. That’s part of the process we are engaged with to work with what stands in our way.’’
And that’s probably the second answer to my question of how you keep engaged with the spiritual life over a lifetime. It was really difficult to try and convey the richness and depth of this talk in 800 odd words so I highly recommend listening to the talk. It’s a unique account of one of our most inspiring teacher’s life.