Today we report on a group of women practising the Dharma in a really challenging environment: Venezuela.
You might have missed it, but Venezuela is in the middle of a severe political and economic crisis. According to Bloomberg, the annual inflation rate is about 1200%. With Brexit going on, here in the UK the rate is around 1.8%, and that’s considered high. Food and medicine shortages and a currency nosedive are just some of the problems Venezuelans are facing.
In the midst of this is the Buddhist Center of Mérida, where a small group of women, many of whom have asked for ordination, are practising without any Dharmacharinis to support them. Their nearest Dharmacharinis are in Mexico, a manageable flight if it weren’t for the economic crisis which makes it impossible.
Parami first visited them in March 2015. She writes “I was deeply moved to meet the six women there who have asked to enter the Triratna Buddhist Order. They practise with very little input, have only met two Dharmacharinis so far (myself and Jñanadakini) and yet have felt moved to practice within our community.”
Their inspiration and commitment to practice is clear from their personal stories, which you can find on the group’s Facebook page.
Henriette says “Practising and studying the Dharma has changed my life, guided my actions and cultivated clarity in my consciousness. My friendship with Vajranatha has been a thread that has helped me to always return to the Triratna Community and to lose my fear of a deeper commitment. I love the Sangha and always learn by listening to them. Their stories often move me and they are a mirror that more faithfully returns my own story.”
Maria Elena writes “The wheel of the Dharma turned in our favour and Jñanadakini came to visit us, and with deep compassion has contributed to our growth and development. We have learned many things from her and she have been an example of metta and commitment.”
Parami has been on a fundraising drive to get the women who have asked for ordination to Mexico for a training retreat.
Gleysa (21) says “I have never traveled outside of Venezuela, and my chances of doing so are completely zero… I am infinitely grateful for the possibility of attending my first retreat in Mexico in 2017. I would like to have the pleasure of meeting more women in the process of ordination training and other Dharmacharinis.”
Parami writes “We have hit the target of £2000. Alongside some other money directly donated we can probably pay for five of the nine women from Venezuela to fly up to Mexico for the GFR retreat in April. That is so so wonderful! Of course, if you have not donated and would like to please, please do as there are lots of other expenses we could put money towards.”
Many of our readers and friends will be aware that over the years Triratna has periodically needed to revisit troubling issues relating to events in our past. These derive in part from allegations of sexual misconduct by our founder, Sangharakshita, in his relations with a number of adults in the 1970s and ’80s. You can read about the general background here: Our Development & Values
At present there is a renewal of interest in these matters at Triratna Centres and online, after they were the subject of a 12-minute BBC local television report in eastern England in September 2016. Obviously, we take them very seriously as a community and as an Order. We also see them as an opportunity to hear and learn from the new perspectives that are arising in this latest examination of our shared history.
Sangharakshita himself published a personal statement at the end of last year. It ends with these words: “I would therefore like to express my deep regret for all the occasions on which I have hurt, harmed or upset fellow Buddhists, and ask for their forgiveness.” He later confirmed that “his apology extends to anyone he has harmed in any way at all, including those who were Buddhists at the time if not now, and their non-Buddhist family and friends.” The spirit of this was welcomed in a further statement from the College of Public Preceptors (a key body in Triratna’s leadership).
Now a working group of senior members of the Order, drawn from the College and beyond, has established the “Adhisthana Kula”, at Adhisthana, Triratna’s headquarters in Herefordshire, UK. These six women and men have been meeting very regularly, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. They will be considering ways of responding to and - where possible - resolving the issues arising, consulting with others as appropriate. They write:
“One of the areas we have already started exploring is possible approaches to reconciliation, including whether this might involve an independent agency. These processes are very sensitive and need a great deal of patience, care, and empathy and may need to go on quietly, in the background.”
The Kula will be blogging about the process of their work, and we’ll launch a dedicated public space for this in the next week or so. We’ll update this story with a link when it’s online.
If you have any questions or concerns about this please see the list of resources below, or feel free to contact the Adhisthana Kula at any time: kula [at] adhisthana.org
Useful resources around historical controversy
- Our Development & Values: a public page on this site (Triratna’s main web platform since 2013), regularly updated, referring to past controversy and linking to material critical of Triratna
- Triratna Communications Team response to BBC request for comment about ‘Inside Out’ (September 2016, also in archive above)
- Sangharakshita’s Personal Statement (2016)
- Statement from the College of Public Preceptors endorsing Sangharakshita’s statement (2017)
- Statement from the College of Public Preceptors making explicit their pre-existing rule on sexual relationships between those conducting ordinations and those they ordain
- Triratna’s model ethical guidelines for those who run/teach at Triratna Centres (2016, reviewed and developed annually)
- Triratna’s latest model safeguarding documents (2016, reviewed and developed annually)
- Our public page on safeguarding in Triratna
- Various public posts relating to safeguarding in Triratna
- A list of all public resources around these issues on The Buddhist Centre Online
Sthanashraddha is Sangharakshita’s secretary. He writes:
“There is not much to report from the early part of December apart from Bhante having a rather quiet time having recovered from a long spell of poor sleep over the summer and autumn. During that time he saw Subhuti, Lokamitra and Devamitra, having seen almost no one in the previous month or two.
Then Bhante caught a cold. He quickly deteriorated and was admitted on the evening of Tuesday 20th December to Hereford County Hospital suffering from pneumonia. Whilst in hospital the Uddiyana team arranged 24-hour attendance between Sanghadasa, and Paramartha and Suvajra who took it in turns to stay overnight with Bhante. He was in hospital for 10 days and left in the afternoon of Friday, 30th December.
As soon as he was out of hospital, that evening, he dictated his personal statement to Paramartha before going to bed, which has been circulated to the Order and others. There have been many emails, cards and letters posted in reply [including 125 from Order members], the vast majority expressing appreciation and gratitude, which I must say even as secretary have been deeply moving to read to Bhante.
It has taken several weeks for his health to improve and only now does he feel fully recovered. Bhante hopes to write something about his hospital experience but in the meantime said it would surface to say that the experience was very different from his life at Adhisthana and he was glad to return home.
However, this recent illness does seem to have marked a change in Bhante’s life. Things are and will be quite different now and Bhante will be receiving quite a bit more help and care from the health care services. He has already received a new hospital-style bed that can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button, and a visit from a physiotherapist who has given him a set of exercises to help him keep mobile. (These are done every day with the help of Sanghadasa.) Soon there will also be a visit from an occupational therapist and a Community Matron. Bhante also had another visit to the eye clinic on Thursday 19th January at Kidderminster Hospital for his 13th Lucentis eye injection.
Apart from the world of health of course other things continue, such as study with Paramartha. At the time of going into hospital they had gone through the first chapter of The Lotus Sutra: A Biography, by Donald Lopez on the White Lotus Sutra; and after his return from hospital they picked up where they left off and have now finished it. Listening to Audio Books also has resumed - at present it’s Evelina by Fanny Burney, the daughter of Charles Burney, a friend of Doctor Johnson.
With returning strength and energy Bhante has also been able to begin seeing people for short meetings again and has during the later half of January seen the following people: Jnanavaca, Saddhanandi, Nityabandhu, Rijupatha, Parami, Kalyanaprabha, and Sue Shepard. And as the days begin to lengthen and slowly but surely the spring bulbs make their way up through the earth, I know Bhante is looking forward to once again walking out in the garden by the pond and feeling the sun shining on his face.
In this 4.5-minute video pupils and teachers at a London primary school talk to Srivati about the effect of their mindfulness programme. Srivati runs the Breathing Space in Schools project, in London, UK, and will be running training this month for others who’d like to teach mindfulness for schools. She writes:
“I love teaching mindfulness in London schools. You get to meet loads of young people and their staff and introduce them to a set of positive skills and approaches that may last them a lifetime. Recently, working with a small group of 10 year-olds over eight weeks I was delighted how they each felt they could cope better with the challenges of not reacting to things and people. ‘The good things inside are winning over the bad things’, says Ahmed.
Twice a year we offer a 3-day training for school staff who want to become mindfulness and meditation mentors for their schools. These are also open to those connected with Triratna centres and groups who would like to do outreach in local schools.
After the training last autumn, some of our participants said:
“I learned how to bring mindfulness to young people in an accessible, practical and fun way.
“I feel equipped and excited about starting my journey of mindfulness in school.”
“ Absolutely worth travelling for, even with train delays!”
To be eligible, you need to have done an 8-week secular mindfulness course and have been practising for at least 6 months.
The next training will be at the London Buddhist Centre on 25th and 26th February and 7th May and costs £450.
srivati [at] breathingspaceinschools.co.uk (Contact Srivati.)
Visit the Breathing Space website.
Vidyamala, founder of Breathworks, spent December running an online video retreat on the American Buddhist site, Tricycle.com. This set of four 20-minute talks isentitled ’Freeing the Mind When the Body Hurts”. She writes:
“I started developing mindfulness courses for people with pain and illness way back in 2001, drawing on my own experience of coming to meditation with a spinal injury and wanting to offer advice for others in similar circumstances. Joined by Sona and Ratnaguna, we developed this to become the Community Interest (not-for-profit) Company Breathworks in 2003.”
Breathworks has since become internationally recognised and its teachers now offer courses in more than 25 countries. Jon Kabat-Zinn has of it: ‘The Breathworks approach to Mindfulness-Based Pain Management (MBPM) is the most comprehensive, in-depth, scientifically up-to-date and user-friendly approach to learning the how of living with chronic pain and reclaiming one’s life that I know of. I admire Vidyamala tremendously…her approach could save your life and give it back to you.” In 2014, Vidyamala’s book Mindfulness for Health, co-authored with Danny Penman, won first prize in the British Medical Association book awards in the Popular Medicine category.
Alongside this work Vidyamala has focussed on deepening her understanding and practice of the Buddhist approach to mindfulness and kindness, offering many retreats at Taraloka and now Adhisthana and Rivendell. She writes, “I’ve been intrigued about the interface between ‘secular’ mindfulness that has a very wide reach into the world, and Buddhism that offers considerably more depth but is less widely accepted within Western society. So I’m increasingly turning my attention to bridging these two worlds in the hope of making the Buddhadharma much more widely known and practised.”
1. The Power of Awareness - looking at the Satipatthana Sutta
2. Letting go of the Struggle - looking at the Salattha Sutta
3. And What of Love? - looking at the Brahma Viharas
4. Six Steps to Living with Choice -
- Compassionate Acceptance
- The Treasure of Pleasure
- Gaining Perspective
- Living with Choice
Maitripala is an Order member in Australia. When I met her a couple of years ago, she told me of her plans to embark on a pilgrimage along the east coast of Australia to volunteer for different Triratna Buddhist Groups and Centres. Wearing her kesa every day for a year, she would also hand out small Buddha figures to strangers she met along the way. Here she describes how this incredibly moving adventure has been unfolding.
Maitripala writes: “I have been given 170 little Buddhas to give away for the ‘Buddhas in my Pocket’ pilgrimage. So far 52 have gone to new pockets and I will continue to hand the others on over the next four months whilst visiting and helping at Triratna centres/groups along the east coast of Australia.
Starting conversations with strangers and hearing the stories, hopes and dreams of so many wonderful people has increased my faith and confidence in the amazing potential of human beings. The effect of hearing these tender stories often stays with me long after we part. One conversation was with a man from Tibet who had spent four years in Chinese prison where he said he learnt to manifest a compassionate response to those beating him. His gentle, dedicated task of developing compassion spurred me on to be more active in opposition to my country’s treatment of refugee families.”
With blog posts on her attending a ‘Grandmothers against Refugee Children in Detention’ protest and catching up with a man she met last year when he was living on the streets, it’s no surprise Maitripala’s name means “Guardian of Loving Kindness.”
Can you help Maitripala continue this journey of metta walks and dharma sharing?
This winter’s gathering of Triratna’s European Chairs’ Assembly ended last week at Adhisthana and was unusually large, with around 60 participants. This partly reflects a changeover in Chairs in around 15 centres and enterprises, the old and new Chairs attending together.
The topic this time was leadership, explored through a series of presentations and workshops. Listen to short interviews on this topic.
The Chairs also heard about the work done by the College, Bhante and Triratna’s communications team to respond to the matters raised by the BBC’s local tv programme in September 2016, just after the Chairs’ last meeting.
A new dedicated Safeguarding post was agreed, to build on the work I began in 2013. It was very good to see how much progress has been made in Safeguarding provision since the publication of our first model policies in 2015.
Endorsing a Personal statement from Sangharakshita , Triratna’s College of preceptors have released this letter, sent to all Order members on 15th January.
“Dear brothers and sisters in the Order,
On 31st December 2016 Bhante released a personal statement to all Order members via the Order Information Service. I am speaking on behalf of all Public Preceptors when I say how glad we are that Bhante has felt able to make this statement and how much we welcome the confessional nature of the contents. I believe it will contribute to the further integration of some of the more complex and problematic aspects of our history.
Bhante’s statement is, in part, a response to discussions that have been taking place in the Order recently, especially about his sexual history, following the broadcast of a short report as part of a British local TV programme ‘Inside Out’ on 26th September 2016. Because of his serious ill health at that time, Bhante was not told until the beginning of December about the programme or the ensuing discussions in Triratna and beyond. He had however already been reflecting on these matters for some time and has been talking about them with his companions and close friends in the College.
Although Bhante’s message is personal, it is effectively a public statement and therefore generalised in form; but hopefully it will be heard in the spirit in which it is communicated and will go some way, at least, towards acknowledging the experience of those who feel hurt or upset as a result of past events. Clearly this process may take time. As College members we wish to offer our support to anyone who wishes to contact us to discuss matters further. We would also, of course, be very willing to discuss our own individual past actions in relation to these matters - or any other.
Like many Order members, we have been very concerned by what we have heard and the evident pain and suffering in some accounts, even though it is always hard to know precisely what happened in personal relations between other people, especially at such a distance in time. This is all the more the case since much of our discussion in the Order in the West these days takes place online, especially on Facebook, where the sheer flow of information and comment - and contradiction - can make it hard to know what is accurate. The fact that previously private confidences may no longer be respected and are likely to end up in the public domain further complicates the issue. However we hope that over time more people who were around during that period when Bhante was sexually active will tell their stories about those times and that from this a more rounded picture will gradually emerge; that is why we welcomed the setting up of the ‘Stories of the Past and Present’ forum on the Order pages of The Buddhist Centre Online. [Ed: Given the personal nature of some of the material shared here between friends in the Order, the ‘Stories’ space is a private one.]
Over the years we have made attempts to understand past events; to learn from them and to guard against repeating mistakes; and to ensure that people making a connection with our Order are aware of our history. We have long recognised that Preceptors should not have sexual relations with those they have ordained, nor should they ordain those with whom they have had such relations in the past. We adopted this principle many years ago, with Bhante’s full support, and in order to avoid any ambiguity, we recently communicated this to all preceptors in writing. Furthermore, we have since 2013 championed the development of model ethical guidelines for Triratna teachers around the world, which make it clear they should not have sexual relations with those for whom they are the main teacher; also model safeguarding policies regarding the protection of children and of ‘vulnerable adults’.
Consideration of some aspects of Bhante’s past has been difficult for some of us in the College, as it has been for many of our brothers and sisters in the Order and others associated with our community. Bhante is the founder of our Order and Movement and we feel enormous appreciation and gratitude to him for his teachings and inspiration - and yet at the same time we must acknowledge the effects of some of his past actions. Nonetheless, we in the College remain clear about Bhante’s key position.
Our responsibility as Public Preceptors comes from Bhante as founder of the Order. We conceive of the Order in the terms he defined, and practise and teach the Dharma according to his particular presentation of it; we will continue to carry out our responsibilities as Public Preceptors for guarding the gates of the Order, faithful to the vision and understanding that derive from him.
This is a crucial period in the history of the Triratna Buddhist Order, with Bhante entering the last phase of his life. At this time, may we and our brothers and sisters in the Order learn from our mistakes, as we again go through the process of gaining new perspective on our past. May this lead to us sharing a deeper confidence in our Order and Community, so that together we continue to be a force for good in the world.
Saddhaloka, Chair of the College of Public Preceptors, 12/01/2017
with Amrutdeep, Paramabandhu, and Ratnadharini, Deputy Chairs
on behalf of the College of Public Preceptors of the Triratna Buddhist Order”
We are delighted to announce the public ordinations of the following 12 women, at Bordharan Retreat Centre, Maharashtra, India on Sunday 15th January 2017.
Private preceptor Vijaya
Public preceptor Jnanasuri
Supriya Akshobhy - North Nagpur - becomes Nityashri, “Permanent glory”
Kusumlata Goutam - Dehradun, Uttarakhand - becomes Aryadarshini, “One who knows/sees the Arya - noble one”
Babita Bhan - Modinagar, Uttar Pradesh - becomes Ratnavajri, “A jewel-vajra”
Chandrakanta Bouddha - Dehradun, Uttarakhand - becomes Vinayadarshini, “One who observe the vinaya-discipline”
Private preceptor Jnanasuri
Public preceptor Karunamaya
Suwasini Rokade - Pune - becomes Amitashri
Ranjana Meshram - Yavatmal - becomes Shriprabha
Pramita Gotam - Modinagar, Uttar Pradesh - becomes Prajnakirti
Kavita Kamalsing - Modinagar Uttar Pradesh - becomes Mrudukirti
Pushpa Jivane - Wardha - becomes Puspaprabha
Mayadevi Gon - Modinagar, Uttar Pradesh - becomes Nitika
Nirmal Dhanavijay - South West Nagpur - becomes Jyotiprabha
Priti Singh - Pune - becomes Vidhyavardhini
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
In the latest NewsByte video from Clear Vision, we hear about the Second International Buddhist Youth Convention, held last October by India’s National Network of Buddhist Youth at Bordharan, attended by Order members and mitras from all around the world (11.5 minutes).
Triratna is now so large, it can be hard to remember that there are still many countries without any Triratna activities at all, even in Europe. In Vienna last September I got together with Thomas and Carina Rotter, Austrian Buddhists longing for someone to start Triratna activities there.
Triratna may well be one of the Buddhist movements making greatest use of online communications and, as you’ll see, they’ve certainly made determined use of it!
Thomas writes: “I found Triratna at the beginning of 2015, when I was searching for a modern Buddhist magazine. I had already given up the search for a modern Buddhist community or order.
But suddenly, there was the German website www.triratna-buddhismus.de, where I found further links, including, for example, The Buddhist Centre Online. I read through every single one of its pages about Triratna. At Free Buddhist Audio Carina and I spent hours and hours listening to lectures. Through VideoSangha we discovered Clear Vision’s YouTube channel, where we watched all the NewsByte videos and started to search for and watch the old FWBO Newsreels. Of course we are very excited about Buddhafield! We may take part in the family retreat this year, but definitely in the festival. Finally, we started online Dharma study with Suvarnagarbha via Skype, but we’ve had to take a break until our baby is able to give us a bit more spare time.
We live in the Austrian countryside. As a young and ecologically-minded family, we don’t want to travel around by air, so we’re taking every possible chance to get in contact with Triratna members in person. At the Vesakh celebrations in Vienna, we ran into Tibor Derdak, a Mitra and director of the Dr Ambedkar High School (Hungary) at the Vesakh celebrations in Vienna. Knowing Munisha would be attending meetings of the European Buddhist Union and Buddhist Teachers in Europe, we arranged another trip to Vienna to have lunch with her.
Through all this, and the experience of people presenting the Dharma in an open, modern and authentic manner, we think Triratna may be just the Buddhist tradition for us.
We so look forward to engaging with you. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to visit or talk about developing Triratna activities in Austria, or have other ideas.”
thomas.rotter [at] yesssmail.at (Contact Thomas and Carina.)
As we reported over the holidays, on 21st December 2016, Triratna’s founder Sangharakshita went into hospital suffering with pneumonia. At the age of 91 this could have been very serious; however, making a good recovery he was able to return home to Adhisthana on New Year’s Eve.
On 30th December he released this public statement to the Order, reflecting on aspects of his life and his relationship to Triratna:
“Next year we shall be celebrating the 50th anniversary of FWBO/Triratna. It will be an occasion of rejoicing, thankfulness for the Three Jewels and re-dedication to the ideals for which Triratna stands.
For me as the founder of Triratna the occasion will be an especially poignant one. I have more than once said that I was not the best person to found a new Buddhist movement, but the only one that was available, and friends have sometimes assured themselves and others that my words were not to be taken literally but were only a sign of my humility. But this is not the case. At the time I meant them to be taken literally and I still mean them to be taken literally.
I being its founder, Triratna sometimes bears the mark not of the Dharma but of my own particular personality. That personality is a complex one and in certain respects I did not act in accordance with what my position in the movement demanded or even as a true Buddhist. I am thinking in particular of the times when I have hurt, harmed or upset fellow Buddhists, whether within Triratna or out of it.
These thoughts have borne all the more upon me in the course of the last week, when I was in hospital with pneumonia. As I was well aware pneumonia can be fatal to a man of my age and I knew that I could die, even though I did not feel that I was dying, despite being very ill.
I would therefore like to express my deep regret for all the occasions on which I have hurt, harmed or upset fellow Buddhists, and ask for their forgiveness.
December 30th 2016”
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Update: 8th February 2017 Sangharakshita has confirmed that his apology extends to anyone he has harmed in any way at all, including those who were Buddhists at the time if not now, and their non-Buddhist family and friends. He further wishes to make it clear that his statement was a confession. As the acknowledgment of having breached the Buddhist ethical precepts, Buddhist confession can most fully be made to other Buddhists. His statement was therefore addressed to Buddhists, whether within or without Triratna, for the reason that the confession of evil is part of the spiritual context which he shares with other Buddhists.
On Thursday this week the ‘Fortunate Women’ of Triratna’s Glasgow sangha are helping to launch ‘Kinder Scotland’ - a 21 day kindness challenge - open to anybody, not just Scotland. Sara Khorasani writes:
“Can we transform self and society though kindness? We know from research and our own experience that kindness can be radical. It has the power to change our relationship to ourselves and to others. The more you notice you are on the receiving end of kindness the more likely you are to pass it on.
Join us for the Kinder Scotland 21 day challenge starting on Thursday 5th January. Commit a different act of kindness every day for 21 days and notice what effect it has had on you, your community, family, colleagues and friends.
Having taken part in previous years, we feel it has hugely benefited our spiritual practice. It’s a wonderful way of taking our practice off the cushion and into the world at a time when kindness is needed more than ever.
The Kinder Scotland 21 day challenge is a partnership between the U.lab Scotland community and the Carnegie Trust; both are interested in the impact of not-so-random acts of kindness on communities. It will be hosted on kindspring.org, an international volunteer-led kindness and generosity web platform and community. It’s entirely free to join and use the resources, ideas and daily inspirations for those taking part in the challenge.”
Lama’s Pyjamas, the London Buddhist Centre’s charity shop, this week proudly launches its new website this week - with a fanfare of good news.
The shop contributed £56,000 (over €66,000 / USD 68,000) in dana to support the work of the LBC in 2016, a new young person will be joining the team come the spring, the premises are now aglow with new lighting and to top it all, this small Triratna Team-Based Right Livelihood business heads into 2017 as official runner up in the Time Out Love London Awards for ‘Best Shop in Bethnal Green’ - beaten only by the wonderful Columbia Road Flower Market.
The Time Out results are based on whoever gets the most public votes in a two-month-long competition. Venues first have to make it through to the shortlist in their category for their local area, all based on a popular vote. Then the online voting, which is open to all comers, determines the overall winners. As 2016 came to a close, a total of 124,000 Londoners voted for their favourite places.
Says Lama’s Pyjama’s manager Abhayanandi: “We’re delighted to have done so well when we are competing with so many great shops in places like Shoreditch and Brick Lane just down the road, let alone an internationally-known destination like Columbia Road Flower Market. Our customers and donors loved getting involved in the competition and we’re really grateful to them for taking the trouble to vote for us”.
Team member Sally Ramsden adds: “It all goes to show that it’s hard to compete with such well known flower power! We’re displaying our certificate, signed by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, in our shop window and hope to do even better next year”.
“Dear brothers and sisters,
I am delighted to let you know that Bhante returned home to Adhisthana on New Year’s Eve. While he will need some time to recuperate, he is very pleased to be home. Please do continue to send metta to Bhante and to those who look after him with such love and attention.