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Sangharakshita's Diary 2010

December 2010

The recent cold weather disrupted Bhante’s routine only to the extent of precluding his usual walk round the garden, the paths in which became perilously icy, for a week or so. During that period he was without his usual secretarial support, as I was on solitary retreat, but the visitors continued nonetheless, including Nityabandhu and Shantaka, who came for a weekend.

The most unusual event of the last month was a fundraiser at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre, at which Bhante was guest of honour. The event was called ‘Tea with Bhante’, and consisted firstly of a performance which included recitations and musical settings of some of Bhante’s poems, then songs that were popular in his youth; and secondly the serving of tea and a vast selection of cakes and biscuits, during which Bhante chatted with various members of the local sangha.

Other than this, Bhante’s many visitors have included various groups from around the Movement, including Dharmavajri and three friends who had been celebrating a Kalyana Mitra ceremony together here in Birmingham; a group of ladies from Sweden; and men from Shrewsbury, accompanied by Akasharaja. He also had dinner with the public preceptors while they were at Madhyamaloka for their meeting, as well as seeing a number of them individually.

Bhante’s literary work has continued, and he has completed three of the short sketches in which he recalls incidents of various kinds from his early childhood, to which he has given the collective title of My First Eight Years: A Mosaic of Memories. They will go up on his website at some point, so look out for them. He has listened to audio books of, among other things, The Simple Soul and other Short Stories by Catherine Cookson, which Bhante thought good but not great, though he appreciated the fact that the stories exemplified strong ethical values; and Ted Hughes by Elaine Feinstein which he found interesting and informative. I have continued to read to him from the Gandhavhuya, and we have read some of the contributions to Buddhist Warfare, a selection of essays edited by Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, which Bhante thought did not sufficiently distinguish between ‘Buddhism’ and the Dharma. I also read him Subhuti’s new paper (not yet out at the time of writing) Re-imagining the Buddha, which is based on conversations the two of them had around the subject of the Imagination.

Bhante has been for his usual acupuncture session, and will have had another by the time you read this. Other than this there is no health news, and Bhante seems quite well, despite the cold weather.

November 2010

For the last month Bhante has continued to be engrossed in his literary work. He finished the third of his ‘Looking Back’ trilogy, about his search for traces of his Lingwood ancestry, which appears in this month’s Shabda, entitled ‘Reflections’; and now has begun set down some memories from his early childhood, memories which he has not written about hitherto.

As well as new literary projects, he has also had the surprise pleasure of revisiting an old one. Maitreyabandhu dug up, in the British Library, a copy of an article written by a certain Dennis Lingwood, when but nineteen years of age, on the poetry of Sarojini Naidu, one of the first Indians successfully to write poems in the English language. The article is still very readable – more so than Bhante had expected – despite the style being very different from that of his later writings. I have typed it up, and it will be appearing on Bhante’s website soon.

Among the many subscribers to the afternoon slot for receiving visitors, Bhante has enjoyed tea and biscuits in the company of a group of young women from Sheffield, who have recently formed a new community; and a men’s Chapter from Cambridge. Yesterday Paramartha accompanied him to Cannon Hill Park, to enjoy some Autumn sunshine.

Audio books that Bhante has enjoyed have included: Susan’s Story by Susan Hampshire, the famous actress’s account of how dyslexia affected her life and career; and Vanessa Bell by Frances Spalding, a very readable biography of an artist who was at the centre of the Bloomsbury group. He and I finally finished the Lalitavistara – the highly elaborated and imaginatively rich account of the Buddha’s birth, and life up to and including his first communication of the Dharma – which took us a couple of months of twice weekly bed-time reading. Staying with the theme of Mahayana Sutras, we have now embarked upon the Gandhavyuha.

Bhante had his annual blood test, the results of which were satisfactory. Apart from that there is no news regarding his health, except that he is, as he said in a recent letter, ‘in good health, and even better spirits.’

October 2010

The last month has been relatively uneventful, as Bhante has been concentrating on writing about his search for traces of his Lingwood ancestors, and the discoveries he made thereby.

Among Bhante's many visitors a few are of particular interest. Firstly, Olivia Moore, a postulant mitra from Manchester, who is a violinist, came to Madhyamaloka, and, with a local tabla player named Mohinder Singh, gave a performance of Indian classical music for Bhante and others in the Madhyamaloka community, which Bhante enjoyed and appreciated very much. Then came four members of Byoma Kusuma Buddhadharma Sangha, a Buddhist movement whose principal teacher Mahayogi Shridhar Rana Rinpoche, or Ratnashri, lives in long term retreat in Nepal, which is the native country of three of the four visitors. Bhante found their discussion interesting, and photographs were taken. They are very appreciative of Bhante's writing, and sympathetic to Triratna; and Bhante, in his turn was favourably impressed with what I read him of Ratnashri's writings, which I obtained from the organization's website.

Audio book highlights include The Condition of the English Working Class, by Friedrich Engels, which Bhante described as “a vivid account of the terrible human cost of the Industrial Revolution”; Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, “a fascinating double biography of the great explorer Mumbolt and the great mathematician Gaus”; and finally Yet Being Someone Other, by Laurens Van der Post. Bhante commented that the book was very interesting in parts, but rather prolix.

Vidyaruci

September 2010

Two months have sidled by since last I wrote of Bhante’s doings, and in this time he reached the ripe old age of 85. The day itself was spent quietly, a meal with the Madhyamaloka community in the evening being the only indication that it was significant, except for the hundreds of cards and messages that Bhante received. The main celebration of the event took place at the European Order Weekend a few days earlier. Bhante was driven across to Norfolk on the Friday by Paramartha, arriving at Padmaloka, where he was to stay, in the afternoon, and meeting with Dharmapriya in the evening. He travelled to Wymondham College on Saturday morning, where he heard the four talks, one on each of the Four Gifts in his poem, and the rejoicing in his merits given by three friends. Bhante then gave his own talk, ‘Looking back, and forward’, in the course of which he spoke of the need for the Order to move into various fields. He then took lunch with the morning’s speakers, plus Prajnagupta, before retiring for his afternoon rest. The afternoon saw him cut his birthday cake in the presence of hundreds of Order members who sang Happy Birthday. He then attended Priyananda’s launch of the first batch of Sangharakshita classics, and Subhuti’s stirring talk. Next morning Bhante met with various people, and then was driven back to Birmingham by me, stopping on the way at my parent’s house, which is about 15 miles from Padmaloka, for afternoon tea and cake. My parents were very glad to see him, and I was happy that I could show Bhante a place that is not only beautiful - deeply embedded as it is in rural Norfolk, including the Orchard and meadowland of the family home, and the adjacent watermeadow leading down to the river - but also significant to me, being where I grew up from the age of ten. The journey back to Birmingham was the longest I had never driven Bhante, but the journey went smoothly, and we arrived just a little late for dinner.

Hard upon this weekend of activity was several days of meetings with Subhuti, this time to discuss Bhante’s thinking around the area of myth, imagination, art, beauty and symbolism. I had the privilege of typing up some of the transcripts, and having done so I can well understand Subhuti’s excitement and satisfaction with the material, and eagerly await the result.

Since then Bhante has returned to his usual routine, though he has seen fewer people in order that he could concentrate on correspondence, as well as writing about his search for traces of his Lingwood ancestors, as mentioned in the last diary, doing which he has greatly enjoyed.

Bhante has also been involved in the literary endeavours of others. Kalyanaprabha continues with her work editing correspondence between Bhante and Dinoo Dubash, a Bombay friend he had known since the fifties, which requires a visit every week or so - not so difficult now that she is happily ensconced just a few doors down from Madhyamaloka. Also, a woman named Liz Corcoran is writing a biography of Bhante’s old friend the Kazini, who he has written about in Precious Teachers. Liz visited from London, and they had a long talk about his memories of that interesting lady.

Nityabandhu visited Bhante for a weekend, bringing with him Voytek (sp?), Sanghaloka’s first mitra, who has now requested ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order.

Bhante’s exploration of the world of audio books has included Two Men Were Acquitted by Percy Hoskins, the horrifying story of how malicious gossip and sensational newspaper reporting nearly sent an innocent man to the gallows. Bhante commented that careless talk indeed costs lives, in more ways than one! Also Middlemarch (abridged) by George Eliot; J.B. Priestly by Vincent Brome, which Bhante found fascinating; and Down Under by Bill Bryson, on which he commented that it gave an excellent impression of the sheer size of Australia and the extent of its uninhabited desert areas. I have been reading Bhante the Lalitavistara sutra, which fitted in well with the subject of his most recent interviews with Subhuti. He has also been listening to the Proms on Radio 3 from time to time.

Bhante’s health has been stable, and I am glad to say that he has even noticed a slight improvement in his vision, which must facilitate his literary work. He has had two acupuncture sessions, and has been to the hospital for a vision check.

Vidyaruci

July 2010

The period since the last diary begins with Bhante’s trip to Ipswich, which he took in the company of Paramartha, and where he stayed with Swadipa and his partner Carol. On the way there he and Paramartha spent some time in Bury St Edmunds, which Bhante had not visited before, and looked round the cathedral. In the evening they were taken out to dinner by Harshaprabha who then drove them to the mariner and the docks and round other parts of the town.

While in Ipswich Bhante and Paramartha drove around the beautiful Suffolk countryside, visiting the villages and towns of north east Suffolk looking for traces of Bhante’s Lingwood ancestors. They made some interesting discoveries, including the grave of Bhante’s great- great- great- great grandfather and his wife in Brome churchyard. They also spent an hour or so in Folkstone, as Bhante wanted to look at the sea, which he had not seen for some years. They visited Ipswich centre, where Bhante blessed the newly finished chapter room, then gave a talk to the local sangha, and answered questions.

Back at home, Bhante’s regular guest slots remain well subscribed. Kalyanaprabha has come a couple of times to talk about her project of editing some correspondence Bhante had with a friend in Bombay, mainly in the 50s and 60s. These letters throw a lot of light on Bhante’s life and activities at that time. Vajrasadhu, Karunika, and Mokshapriya, who together constitute the Sangharakshita Land Project development team, visited Bhante in order to tell him of their progress.

From further afield, and from outside the Movement, came David Cherniack, who has been a Buddhist for forty years, and documentary film maker for only slightly less time. He is making a film about Buddhism’s transition to the west, which will be shown on Canadian TV and elsewhere, and is interviewing many Buddhist luminaries for this purpose, including Bhante, who he described as an ‘elder statesman of the Dharma’.

Paramartha went to Poland for a week, and Ashvajit stepped in once more to give Bhante practical help, as well as to read to him from Omens of Millenium by Harold Bloom. I have continued reading to Bhante, and we have now finished The Rainbow Road. He also wanted me to read him the Mahagovinda sutta from the Digha Nikaya, which he finds very interesting for various reasons.

Audio books that Bhante has enjoyed include The Unknown Coleridge, a selection of some of Coleridge’s less known poems together with a connecting commentary by Richard Holmes; A child of Bliss by Sebastian Peake, the author’s reminiscences of his famous father, the author of the Gormenghast trilogy; and Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy, a collection that includes what is perhaps his best known short story, The Withered Arm. One of Bhante’s many guests recently brought as a gift a series of four CDs on the life and work of Bach, which he has enjoyed listening to.

The only health news is that Bhante went to the hospital for a vision check, and met with his consultant, who proposed not to give any more eye injections for the time being, and said he would monitor Bhante’s progress over the coming months.

Vidyaruci

June 2010

As I was away on retreat for a week in the last week of May, and Paramartha was visiting the holy places of Greece, Bhante enjoyed the company of his old friend Ashvajit, who sojourned at Madhyamaloka for that period. Ashvajit stayed overnight with Bhante, helped in practical ways, and read to him some evenings. He also accompanied Bhante on his only recent trip to the Botanical Gardens. Though Bhante has not been out to the parks much, he walks round the Madhyamaloka garden every day, which is a good substitute - particularly now, when the recent combination of rain and sun has brought forth much lush foliage, with scores of flowers of different varieties and colours in bloom. Bhante enjoys the garden very much, and greatly appreciates the work Sanghadeva puts into it.

As regards reading, Bhante and I are now well into The Thousand Petalled Lotus. I have also read him The Story of my Soul by Richard Jeffries; an eloquently written classic of Nature Mysticism.

Bhante enjoyed listening to The Girl in Rose: Haydn’s Last Love, which, Bhante says, despite its rather Mills and Boon title, was mainly a well researched account of the rich and varied musical life of London in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In connection with hearing about the life of Haydn, Bhante decided to listen to Haydn’s ten London symphonies, which were in any case old favourites. On the CD to which he listened the symphonies were performed by the Berlin symphony Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Bhante strongly recommends this performance.

Other highlights from the world of audio books include Making Connections, by Patrick Kavanagh– the Irish poet and novelist’s account of his search for traces of the Grandfather who emigrated from Ireland to Tasmania and from Tasmania to New Zealand; The Masked Fisherman and Other Stories by George Mackay Brown - a writer recommended by me – which Bhante enjoyed, though he thought the stories of uneven quality; and Philby, by Bruce Page, the strange story of the notorious double agent, written before the exposure of Anthony Blunt.

No health news to report, except a couple of trips to the hospital - one for an eye injection, and another for a vision test – and the usual session of acupuncture with Rosi.

Vidyaruci

Bhante is continuing to enjoy his excursions to the local parks, and especially to the botanical gardens, which is he very fond of. My birthday treat, yesterday as I write, was to accompany him there, and to enjoy tea and cake in the cafe. The gardens date from 1830s, and are a like a miniature Kew, containing quite a variety of trees and flowers, as well as cactuses, and bonsais, and various species of tropical bird. Some of the plants are under glass, in rooms imitating various different kinds of climate, and the rest are distributed around the fifteen acres of land.

The other part of my birthday treat was to read Bhante one of my attempts to write philosophy, which he said he found interesting. Other reading has included continuing with Learning to Walk, and Plotinus, Bhante’s memories of the ideas of which philosopher he wished to have refreshed. Audio books that he has listened to include In My Way, the political memoirs of George Brown, who in the 1960s was foreign minister in the Wilson government; The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett, which tells one quite a lot about life in Hogarthian England; Mrs Oscar Wilde by Anne Clark Amor, the story of a woman who shared in the rise – and spectacular fall – of her celebrated husband; and On the Other Side (abridged) by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg, an elderly German woman’s account of her life in Hamburg during World War II, written for the benefit of her children in different parts of the world. He has also recently been listening to radio 4, and he says he is beginning to appreciate Gustav Mahler. In fact he quite enjoyed Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, though he was not a little surprised to hear it described by the presenter of the programme as ‘bleak’.

Particularly memorable among his steady flow of visitors from all over the Movement, are Nityabandhu, who came for a weekend, and a few groups of people, including some mainly Indian friends, Order members and mitras from Cambridge and London, and some Birmingham men who study together in a group led by Alokavira.

Bhante’s health has been stable. He had a lucentis injection a few weeks ago, and is due another around the end of the month.

Vidyaruci

April 2010

Spring has come, which means that Bhante, aside from enjoying the spring flowers of the Madhyamaloka garden, has been getting out and about more, including taking advantage of his season ticket to the Botanical Gardens. Such excursions will be aided by my recently having passed my driving test, making Bhante less dependent on Paramartha, who is often away working. Paramartha has also continued archiving. This month he has catalogued 74 ring binders containing mainly lecture notes and copies of letters written by Bhante. Also 27 photo albums containing mainly photos taken by Bhante from 69 onwards.

I have continued reading Shabda to Bhante, as well as wading through Geunther’s book on Padmasambhava. The latter may as well be Arabic as far as I am concerned, but Bhante seems to get something out of it. We have also started going through Learning to Walk, because Bhante wanted to refresh his memory of the contents, and correct any factual inaccuracies he might find, as when he wrote it he was in Kalimpong, and had no way of checking some of the details. Paramartha has started reading him The Gospel of Philip, from the Nag Hammadi Library. Bhante has also enjoyed listening to two classic novels: Washington Square by Henry James, and The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. He appreciated the artistry of the first but felt that the second went deeper.

Aside from these things Bhante has kept up his daily programme. His visitors have included only one group, which consisted of friends and mitras from Southampton. He has also continued to work on correspondence. Those who have received a letter from Bhante in the last few weeks may have been pleased to see the Three Jewels emblem on the letterhead, which seems more appropriate for the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order than the previous picture of Padmasambhava.

Bhante’s health has generally been reasonable. He had a cold over the weekend, and had to cancel a few appointments, but he has now largely recovered.

Vidyaruci

March 2010

You will be glad to know that Bhante has recovered well from his recent angina attack, and after a week or two of taking things relatively easy, is now back to his usual routine of walks, interviews and correspondence. Other than this dramatic and worrying episode the most noteworthy feature of the last month has been a series of visits by Subhuti, who interviewed Bhante on some of his more recent ‘philosophical’ thinking. He has also had a visit from a Manchester GFR group.

With Bhante’s assistance, Paramartha has started cataloguing Bhante’s personal archive. So far 37 box files have been catalogued. Material includes lecture notes, press cuttings, correspondence, articles and book reviews.

I have read to Bhante the whole of Suzuki’s translation of The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana, as well as reading Shabda to him. Paramartha has read him some of the Gnostic texts from The Nag Hammadi Library. The audio book service has provided information and entertainment by way of Congo Journey by Redmond O’Hanlon in which the author meets Bantus, pygmies, and sourcerers, adopts a baby gorilla, and encounters an amazing variety of flora and fauna. Bhante also enjoyed In Search of the Dark Ages, which he thought was history writing at its best. It emphasises dominant personalities such as Boudicca, Alfred the Great, Athelstan, and Eric Bloodaxe, rather than emphasising economics and social trends. The last audio book to which Bhante listened this month was My Invented Country by Isabelle Allende, in which the author gives a vivid picture of pre-Pinochet Chile as she remembers it.

Vidyaruci

February 2010

Bhante’s routine has carried on unchanged. The snow having gone, his daily walks have resumed, and the steady flow of visitors has continued. Bhante particularly enjoyed receiving, from Lokamitra, who came in January, a model of the 30ft high walking Buddha, recently inaugurated at Nagaloka, and was pleased with the artist’s execution. Another highlight was a weekend visit from Nityabandhu, who took the opportunity to interview Bhante about his early life, particularly the first eight years, before he was confined to bed with alleged heart disease.

As spring approaches Bhante starts to consider the possibility of accepting various invitations to visit centres in the UK and abroad, though he has made no definite commitments yet. He received an invitation from Aryaloka to attend their 25th anniversary, and would have liked to accept, but in view of age and health felt that he could not.

Bhante continues to do his best to keep up with correspondence, despite the difficulties of having to dictate all letters. He has been pleased to see that the great majority of Order members seem to welcome the change of name. He has also been moved by some of the letters he has received regarding the Conversation with Mahamati and Subhuti.

Highlights from the audio book service include A Social History of England, by Asa Briggs, a standard work which Bhante found both informative and illuminating; Macbeth, one of his favourite Shakespeare plays, in which he thought Irene Worth was particularly good as Lady Macbeth; and most recently Florence: A Delicate Case, by David Leavitt, an account of some of the more prominent members of the city’s ex-patriot community during the last hundred or more years.

I have continued to read to Bhante from The Book of Kadam. I have also read Shabda to him, as have Paramartha and Nityabandhu.

The only news regarding Bhante’s health is that he had a vision test and macular scan, following his recent series of operations, and there seems that there has been a very slight improvement.

Vidyaruci

January 2010

This month has been even more quiet than the last. Vidyadevi has visited a few of times, in order to interview Bhante about some of his favourite poetry. Bhante has received visitors most days, though even this tailed off a bit over Christmas and New Year. For a week of this period I was away visiting family, so Dharmamati stepped back into his old role, for which thanks to him. Bhante’s own Christmas celebrations extended no further than having a meal with the Madhyamaloka community, followed by a chat round the open log fire. The snowy weather, as well as disrupting the travel plans of some if his visitors, has precluded his daily walks for a number of weeks.

Bhante has had a number of friends read to him from various books. Paramartha read him Porphory’s The Cave of the Nymphs, a neo-Platonic allegory of the soul’s descent into the world of space and time. Devamitra read him extracts from A God Who Hates, in which Wafa Sultan describes the effect of Islam on her early life in Syria. I have read him the beginning of Francis Brassard’s The Concept of Bodhicitta in Santideva’s Bodhicaryavatara, the new introduction to The Religion of Art, by Dhivan, and we have recently started The Book of Kadam, a new translation of an important text from Tibetan Buddhism. Bhante has also listened to a few interesting audio books. These include To The Navel of the World by Peter Somerville-Large, the navel in question being the region around Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarova in Western Tibet; A Nation of Trees by Rosemary Millington, an account of the author’s two and a half years in the Australian outback, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel by Adrian Vaughan, a biography of the famous nineteenth century engineer.

Bhante had another lucentis injection, the last planned for the time being. Other than this his health has been good, despite the wintry weather.

Vidyaruci


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