preceptors' College

2019|2020 newsletter
chair's letter | 2019 meeting summary | first impressions: joining the college | the revised refuge tree | reflections on the initiation vase | college website


Dear Order Members,

It’s been interesting to look back over my first two months as College Chair, as well as starting to get a perspective on the next five years.

Actually my reflections go back to November 2018, when Bhante Sangharakshita had just died and his funeral coincided with the College meeting during which I was asked to become future Chair of the College. It was deeply significant to be at Adhisthana as we moved beyond the lifetime of the founder of our Order, and I was aware – again – of being one of a ‘second generation’ of Order members, having been ordained by Order members who had themselves been ordained by Bhante. Then during the College meeting in November 2019, as well as marking the anniversary of Bhante’s funeral, I took over from Saddhaloka as Chair. This meant moving from living alone, near Tiratanaloka, to being based back in the Adhisthana community. Saddhaloka and I had been working increasingly closely together, and I’m glad he is going to be continuing at Adhisthana for some time to come.

Becoming Chair is going to demand a greater perspective, and I’ll need to liaise with other Order members worldwide. Recently that’s included meetings with the International Council steering group, European Chairs’ Assembly, Ethics Kula, Adhisthana Kula, and Restorative Co-ordinating Group. I’d like to rejoice in the efforts of everyone in those meetings, especially the very harmonious and effective ECA meeting involving a talented lineup of Centre Chairs.

I was very happy to be able to attend the opening of the beautiful and impressive new Paris Centre, and to spend time again, as president, with the Tiratanaloka community. The women’s December Area Order Weekend at Adhisthana was another highlight.

I’m personally interested in doing whatever I can to help bring about the kind of harmony within our Order that will transform us individually and enable us to be more dharmically effective in the world. As part of that aspiration I’d like to work with other Order members to explore ways in which our organisational structures and lines of communication might be improved.

I’m grateful to Amrutdeep (India) and Ratnavyuha (New Zealand) for continuing as Deputies; to Paramabandhu (UK) for being willing to continue until he goes to Guhyaloka in a few months; and to Punyamala (UK) for joining the team. I’m also looking forward to working with our new College Assistant, Akasajoti, who will be splitting her time between the College and the International Council. She will be building on the College webpage created by Jyotika, and supporting more of a flow of communication and efficiency generally.

I hope to write a regular newsletter with updates on current discussions and decisions that I am aware of, and welcome responses. 
College Chair

The annual international meeting of the Preceptors’ College took place from the 4th to the 14th November, 2019. It was Saddhaloka’s final meeting as Chair after almost five years of service, and half-way through the meeting he handed over to Ratnadharini, the incoming Chair, marking the transition with a ritual and rejoicings.

The structure of the College Meeting has a number of phases: it begins with a Kula Period where each Kula meets individually, and then together as men, and as women, over a couple of days to discuss matters concerning ordinations and ordination training in their area. After that follows a period of study together and, this year, the marking of Sangharakshita’s first death anniversary. For this period, retired elders of the college are invited to join for events and for meeting with friends. Padmavajra led study on Shubha as a gateway to liberation, and Subhuti shared some wide-ranging reflections from his recent long solitary retreat.

In the last years, the College has grown to 44 members, with a high degree of internationality, even representation of men and women, and the inclusion of younger generations of the Order. The large international meeting is significant and valuable for the public preceptors to gather together and benefit from a sense of themselves as a community. Evenings are given to a range of activities: the sharing and witnessing of life stories – of new college members, Nagapriya, Viradhamma, and Virasiddhi, and of Ratnadharini as incoming Chair; a Classical and Flamenco Guitar concert from one of the young men on the DharmaLife training course; meditation and devotional practice; and an evening of poetry with Maitreyabandhu from his recent book, After Cezanne.

The final part of the meeting is dedicated to discussion and reporting of any business relevant to the whole college, and is followed by a smaller two-day meeting of representatives from each of the Kulas to review any outcomes of the main meeting in a smaller focused context. Some of the themes emerging from the business meeting are captured below.


Jnanasuri retired from her duties as a Public Preceptor and to mark her leaving, she met with the rest of the College via video link for rejoicings and gratitude, including a moving interaction between one of her daughters and Padmasuri who hadn't met one another for very many years, and an intimate exchange between herself and Srimala, her preceptor. You can get to know more of Jnanasuri here, including her account of Dr Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism.

There have been no women’s ordinations in India for the last two years and so the College gave their blessing for Srimala, who has officially retired, to support Karunamaya in conducting public ordinations in 2020. This will bring to completion the significant efforts of Jnanasuri and Karunamaya’s work in recent years in India and build a bridge to the next generation of public preceptors.
As a growing international community, we need to review our structures and communication channels from time to time and consider whether changes would support the Order and Movement to be more effective. One of the priorities emerging for the College during the last International Council meeting, is to initiate an exploration of ways in which to create fora for meaningful participation and contribution that would support effective decision-making and communication, and Ratnadharini has taken this on.

There were also reports from the International Council, Sikkha, FutureDharma, the Adhisthana Kula, and the International Order Convenors; as well as hearing from members of other groupings such as the ‘Trans and Non-Binary Working Group' and those who are involved with dialogue around insight in the Order. This all serves to connect the College in with current issues and themes in the wider Order and movement. 
A discussion arose in an open space session about how the College can make a creative contribution to the life of the Order. Discussion ranged across themes such as balancing initiative with responsiveness, the tension between the college as individuals and as a collective body, and reflections on how Sangharakshita’s seminar material and dharma input used to serve as a focus for collective emphases, bringing a spiritual unity to the issues that we go through as a community.

People shared their personal experience of being members of the College, how they relate to the role and other’s perceptions of them, as well as the joy of conducting public ordinations. It was noted that this is their primary creative contribution to the order, and that there have been 340 ordinations in the last three years.

Many resonated with Subhuti referring to the College as a ‘Vajra-Kula’, and considered themselves more as a community of public preceptors, rather than ‘the College’. There was enthusiasm for spending more time together on retreat, studying dharma and practising collectively, generating inspiration and depth to be carried into their activity in the order and movement, and perhaps in working together to offer retreats for others.
Ethics in the order + A CULTURE OF CARE
Addressing ethical and safeguarding issues in the Order necessitates a high degree of sensitivity and skilful engagement. As well as the more informal work that goes on in chapters and between friends, there are a number of organisational structures for dealing with this work, such as the Safeguarding Team, the Ethics Kula, and the Restorative Project, among others, and the College heard updates on their work. Some issues of Order ethical conduct involve the College working alongside the International Order Convenors, and so the College Chair and Order Convenors also reported back on their recent work in this area.

A couple of recommendations emerged from presentations and discussions which will be prioritised over the coming months. Firstly, that we need to clarify, define and communicate the appropriate pathways for expressing and addressing issues.
 And secondly, that these processes need to be more adequately resourced. It has become clear that to do this work effectively and well, it requires a significant time commitment and intensive involvement, all too often of the same few people. It would be good to draw on a wider pool of Order members to work with and support those holding specific responsibility for care and conduct in the Order. Though this work can be challenging, it can also be inspiring and transforming when we engage with our own and others’ ethical lives in the spirit of kalyana mitrata.
Within the rest of this newsletter, you can view two videos from the meeting produced by ClearVision from the college meeting, documenting the Chair's Handover, and an introduction to the complete Refuge Tree. You will also find a couple of articles written by College Members sharing their personal perspectives on the recent meeting. Nagapriya writes of his first impressions of joining the College, and Punyamala reflects on the image of the initiation vase, which played a significant part in this meeting and is symbolic of the responsibility of the Public Preceptors. To view the full minutes of the meeting you can follow this link.
from SAddhaloka to ratnadharini
Many thanks to ClearVision Trust for producing this NewsByte with extracts from the handover ceremony and interviews with Saddhaloka and Ratnadharini.

From the outside the College had seemed to me a somewhat nebulous body; distant, even bureaucratic, and concerned primarily with emitting enciclicals, written in committee, which seemed either to be apologies or defences. It was packed with elders who have been the Order's leaders since the early days. So I expected to feel like an outsider, as is my general tendency, the stray dog that sneaked in via the backdoor; especially given my unlikely route into the College, which included a failed romantic adventure in Latin America. I was expecting condescension, complacent encouragement, and to hear all the reasons why none of my ideas were relevant or workable.

As I arrived at a rain-sodden Adhisthana, already regretting the journey from Cuernavaca (known as the city of eternal spring), what I found was a community of disciples faithfully committed to Urgyen Sangharakshita's vision of the Dharma or, as Subhuti called it, a vajra kula*an 'indisoluble linking that transcends this life'. And, according to him, one can never leave! This was my prevailing experience: that the College is a community, a field of kalyana mitrata. Far from finding its senior members superior and stand offish, I was uplifted by the level of friendliness and warmth shown to me.

Of course I already knew many members of the College, at least to some extent, but there were quite a few that I did not know; Padmasuri, for example, who I only knew via her wonderful account of her time in India, 'But Little Dust'. Sanghadevi, one of the 'first five'. All were approachable, interested, warm, and open-minded. Having passed through considerable stormy seas in recent years, this warmth and openness on the part of College members took me a little by surprise. Nothing haughty, defensive, or closed-minded. Much of the time I felt that I was just taking darshan of many wonderful beings dedicated to the Dharma life and the Order's particular embodiment of it.
What is the College and what is for? I am still not sure I can answer that question. Most obviously, it is responsible for ordinations and related matters but aside from that it would seem to be a field of communion in going for refuge, a field of care, of love for the Order, its members, and its spiritual principles. Dhammarati once said that the College is the guardian of Bhante's vision. He later corrected himself by saying that all Order members guard this vision but that the College has a special responsibility to do so. This care and love for the spiritual vision that sustains the Order pervaded the College meeting. I felt it as a kind of blessing that will sustain me in what I do in the future.

The College, or the community of Public Preceptors, is clearly in a process of transition, perhaps most visibly as members of its first generation gradually withdraw from active participation and new members enter, as it adjusts to the implications of our teacher's death, and as it seeks to revive inspiration following some uncertain times. There were several arrivals and partings in this meeting alone, notably a welcome for the first Mexican public preceptor, Virasiddhi. We also have a new Chair in Ratnadharini who will bring a fresh perspective to all the issues at play.

While it is a daunting prospect to pledge myself to uphold the Order's vision of the Dharma, it also feels inspiring. I felt assured that the College will support me in that. Just by being with the members of the College I felt that, in a way that I cannot articulate in words, I was understanding something more deeply about what it means to go for refuge that was embodied in the individual members that I met.
"...and then on another level entirely, one finds the initiatic community spoken of as the vajra-kula. What does this mean? Kula literally is 'family', family in the ordinary sense and also, more especially, spiritual family.

A kula is a community of people following the same spiritual path, the same spiritual tradition, usually, also, under the same spiritual master. And vajra-kula is a spiritual community in a very special sense. A vajra-kula is a community of people, a spiritual community of people, dedicated to direct experience of Reality. They're not together for social reasons, not together to discuss texts, not together for the sake of argument, not together just to mull over their personal problems: they are dedicated simply to the direct experience of Reality, and they're infused also with a common spiritual power.

We may say also that the vajra-kula is a community, a spiritual community in which communication is completely authentic and completely real. This is why it is said, symbolically, very often, that in the vajra-kula everybody is naked - no clothes, no veils, nothing to conceal, completely open."

The Symbolism of the Sacred Thunderbolt  Sangharakshita
I first met Triratna in Leeds, England in 1988. I was studying for a degree in philosophy and was, so it seems now, searching for the meaning of life. I quickly realized that I had found my spiritual home and, after moving to Manchester, I was ordained in 1992. I worked for some years at the Manchester Buddhist Centre and then at Dharmavastu Study Centre...
Read more

Within Triratna, we have a Refuge Tree that represents our particular time and place in the Buddhist tradition. Some years ago, Sangharakshita agreed that we would include Dr Ambedkar and Anagarika Dharmapala on what he has at times referred to as our tree of Refuge and Respect. Ambedkar and Dharmapala are two very significant figures from the revival of Buddhism in India, both of whom have been inspiring and influential figures in Sangharakshita's life and his vision of our Order. We are grateful to Chintamani and Aloka for updating their paintings of the Refuge Tree, which live at Adhisthana and Padmaloka respectively. These new images reflect the lineage within which we practice across the world, and the completion of our Refuge Tree.
JOIN our tree of refuge and RESPECT
During the 2019 College Meeting at Adhisthana, Saddhaloka introduces us to the complete version of the Triratna Refuge tree, following the addition of Anagarika Dharmapala and Dr Ambedkar. We also hear from Amoghasiddhi and Amrutdeep, two College Members from India, on the significance of these figures for Triratna worldwide.

The recent college meeting was rich, multifaceted and felt significant in several ways. In particular, during this meeting, Saddhaloka stepped down as chair and Ratnadharini became the fourth chair of the college. We also welcomed 3 new Public Preceptors from the US and Mexico so the college is becoming more international. It was interesting to discover that of the current active Public preceptors only about half were ordained by Bhante and, of course, Ratnadharini was not ordained by Bhante. My impression is that the college is growing and changing in new ways.

I was pleased that the significance of the vase of initiation that we use in the public ordination ceremony emerged during the meeting. When I first became a Public preceptor I didn’t have an initiation vase. It felt very significant when I obtained one because it gave me a tangible symbol of having taken up this responsibility. My beautiful vase sits on my shrine when it is not in use and provides a focus for reflecting on my work. My vase was blessed by Bhante and that was also important. I vividly remember him taking the vase from me and examining it with great care and saying it was very fine. He kept it for a time and when it was returned I felt not only had the vase been blessed and the work it would do, but so had I.

We held a simple, elegant ceremony to ritually mark the handover of chair from Saddhaloka to Ratnadharini. Subhuti, the first chair of the college, set the scene and talked about the significance of the initiation vase. The vase that was used for the handover ceremony used to belong to Bhante, before he passed it on to Parami. It is a simple, small vase without much ornamentation and it has lost its top. I found it moving to reflect that this was the vase used in my own ordination in 1987 and those of many of us ordained by him. It is the vase he used in the West and he used it at the first ordinations. Saddhaloka lifted the vase off the shrine with care and reverence, offered it to Ratnadharini who accepted it with grace and beauty; she then replaced the vase on the shrine, they both made light offerings and Ratnadharini became the new chair of the college.

The vase is the tangible symbol of being a Public preceptor and it is used during the public ordination ceremony to sprinkle a few drops of water on the crown of the head of the ordinand. This aspect of the ordination ceremony is rich in symbolism. I think of it as symbolising the initiatory aspect of ordination in general. One’s spiritual energies are activated, the energy inherent in the act of deeply and wholeheartedly Going For Refuge to the Three Jewels is sparked off and one’s deepest spiritual energies are released.  
Water has many associations. It is necessary for life and it is cleansing and purifying. I think of the drops of water purifying the whole of one’s being so, at that moment in the ceremony, body, speech and mind are completely pure. The drops of water also symbolise the blessings, the nectar, of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha working through one, shaking one up and transforming one in all ways. They water the seed of one’s spiritual aspiration, the seed of bodhicitta which has been planted in the soil of the heart of the ordinand.

During his talk, Subhuti said the fundamental duty of a public preceptor was to ensure that the vase is used properly. My understanding of this is that I, as a Public Preceptor, have a responsibility to ensure a common understanding of Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels in our tradition and to nurture conditions for the bodhicitta to arise. This can only happen by creating conditions for trust, harmony, kalyana mitrata, faith and deepening of our Going For Refuge to the Three Jewels.

As some of our older Public preceptors are starting to ‘retire’, a lovely tradition is emerging. Earlier this year, Dhammadinna handed on her vase to Santavajri in a simple, private ceremony. At the college meeting, Subhuti handed on a vase of his to Nagapriya, who he ordained, which will be used in Mexico. A lineage is unfolding quite naturally and organically.

I think all of us at the meeting were inspired by reflecting on the initiation vase. The women public preceptors are going to be using it as the symbol for our next preceptors retreat. We shall be exploring aspects of the ordination ceremony, deepening our understanding of the meaning of ordination and using the initiation vase as our focus because it encapsulates the essence of the ordination ceremony - purification, receptivity and the transforming influence of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha on our lives.
My first encounter with Bhante was hearing him give the talk entitled ‘The Taste of Freedom’. This had a profound effect on me but being naturally cautious, it took me some time to commit myself to the FWBO (as it was then). I was ordained in 1987 by Urgyen Sangharakshita when my eldest son was 2 years old. The context for my Dharma life has been the family and I have worked part-time in the NHS as a Clinical psychologist until I was able to retire in 2015...
Read more

College 2019  Caroline Ivemey-Parr
Portrait of Ratnadharini  Alokavira
Murmuration  Viramati
Detail from 'Mont Sainte-Victoire' Cezanne Sangharakshita + his Initiation Vase  ClearVision Portrait of Nagapriya  Sanghadhara
Portrait of Punyamala  Suvajra
Other Images + Text  Akasajoti
You're receiving this update as you are subscribed to the Order Address List. Please let us know if you have any feedback or want to update your preferences for what you receive.