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Sangharakshita's Diary 2012

November 2012

At the end of October, I (Vidyaruchi) returned to Bhante’s service after a six-week break, during which time Singhamanas, who will succeed me permanently in March, stepped into the secretarial saddle. The changeover went smoothly, and I am hopeful that with Singhamanas Bhante has found a secretary who will have most of my virtues and few of my failings. (Fortunately, Bhante has never had cause to see my office).

Though Bhante’s routine of correspondence, daily walks, and visitors continues in outline, he has started to cut down on what he does and the numbers of people he sees, due to dwindling energy, and a wish to conserve himself for the impending rustication to Coddington Court. Moreover, he has seen something of a return of the insomnia that plagued him back in his annus horribilis of 2003.

Nonetheless, Bhante has seen people, including 9 Order members who came to Madhyamaloka to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their ordination in Tuscany 1982. He has also met with three Indian Dhammacharis - Amoghasiddhi, Amrutdeep, and Yashosagar - who came straight from retreat at Maes Gwyn, Subhuti and Srimala’s property in Wales, to ask for Bhante’s blessing on their becoming Public Preceptors, which he was glad to give. Kalyanaprabha has continued visiting Bhante for sessions of literary work. They are currently working on a volume of Early Writings, the footnotes of which need to be checked with Bhante.

Paramartha is still reading aloud Madame Blavatsky: The Woman Behind the Myth, and Bhante continues to find it both interesting and entertaining. They have also read John Masefield’s Grace Before Ploughing, written towards the end of the poet’s life, in which he reminiscences about his childhood in Ledbury, of particular interest as the town nearest to Coddington Court. Besides this, Bhante has returned to the poetry of Coleridge, in particular through a CD of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, which has been one of Bhante’s favourite poems since his teens, and which he revisits from time to time.

Bhante visited the hospital for one of his regular vision tests. Happily, there has been no further deterioration in his eyesight since the last test earlier in the year. Meanwhile, we hope his sleep will stabilize - for in the words of the Ancient Mariner, ‘Sleep it is a gentle thing, beloved from Pole to Pole’.

Vidyaruchi

October 2012

Change is very much the colour of the season here at Madhyamaloka and for Sangharakshita especially. He has both been adapting to a new secretary, and preparing concertedly for his immanent move to Herefordshire and Coddington Court.

Bhante visited his future home on the 25th September. The historic occasion was caught on film, and, if you would care to see some images from Bhante’s first visit to Coddinton, please navigate to the recent news articles concerning the visit at thebuddhistcentre.com.

Sangharakshita was pleased by the site, commenting immediately on how preciously quiet the environment was, and then inquiring from resident Dharmacarini Ratnadharini if she had, per chance, noticed any ghosts in the vicinity.

Whilst at Coddington Court, Sangharakshita focused his attention on the available building spaces, with a keen eye to finding a suitable dwelling for himself within the complex. A suitable space has since been decided upon.

Beyond this, Bhante was keen to take in views of the surrounding Malvern country-side from the car to and from Coddington, and he has also been refreshing his memory of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and John Masefield - poets who both passed idyllic childhoods in the area.

In other reading, Bhante has been listening to Gentle Genius by George R. Marek, which he has found to be a perceptive exploration of the life and genius of Mendelssohn, with special reference to the position of the Jewish community in 18th and 19th century Europe. He has also been enjoying a biography of Madame Blavatsky with Paramartha, whose Isis Unveiled Bhante read at the age of fourteen and that made him realize that he was not a Christian. The author is Marion Meade and the sub-title to the biography The Woman Behind the Myth, and he has said he is finding the woman in question very much more interesting than the myth that has grown up around her and been fostered by the Theosophists.

Moreover, Bhante has been reading essays from Thomas McEvilley’s encyclopaedic tome The Shape of Ancient Thought, his focus being on themes concerned with Orphics and Jains, Platonists and Vijnanavadins especially.

Visitors continue to arrive on an almost daily basis to meet with Sangharakshita, including a large group of Polish Buddhist from the Krakow sangha who spent a long weekend in residence here. Unfortunately Bhante’s health took a turn for the worse that week and he regretfully had to cancel all engagements. He did, however, manage to meet the many members of the Krakow sangha the following week via the marvels of Skype.

Singhamanas

September 2012

Change is afoot at Madhyamaloka. By the time you read these words, we hope that the long wait will be over, that Coddington Court will in the possession of the Order, and that preparations will be underway to make it a new home for Bhante and a new centre for the Triratna Community. Nonetheless, the last two months since I last wrote a diary have been fairly quiet ones for Bhante, who is wanting to preserve his energies for what we hope will be the forthcoming move. Even his birthday was celebrated with only a quiet meal in the company of those of the Madhyamaloka community who were not attending the Order Gathering at Wymondham. In August Nityabandhu visited for a few days, and at the time of writing is here again, this time accompanied by a contingent of men and women from the Krakow Centre. September has also seen visits from Subhuti, who visited Bhante over three days for some wide ranging discussions; and Lokamitra, who also had a number of sessions with Bhante, while his wife Visshaka and their daughter Rajyashri stayed in Bhante’s guest room. Otherwise, Bhante has continued seeing visitors from all over the Movement, including a group of six mitras from Ipswich. He has also engaged in two Q&A sessions via the, for him, new technological medium of skype: one with members of the Aryaloka Sangha in the US; and the other with the Chairs Assembly at Vajrasana. Both occasions went very well.

I have read to Bhante three articles from the London Review of Books, all by Perry Anderson, and entitled, respectively, ‘Gandhi Centre Stage’, ‘Why Partition?’, and ‘After Nehru’. Bhante found them of absorbing interest and described them as essential reading for anyone interested in India (they are available on the LRB website). Following this Paramartha has read to Bhante Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life by Katherine Tidrick, which Bhante found fascinating, especially as it was by no means a hagiography and at times showed the darker side of Gandhi’s life and work. I have since read to Bhante most of an independence day special issue of Outlook, a weekly magazine published in India. Most of the articles were about Dr Ambedkar, who has just been voted India’s greatest Indian after Gandhi in a nationwide poll. The magazine was helpful in giving some idea of the broader context of our own movement in India. Paramartha has read to Bhante Warrior For Peace, Jinananda’s life of the Buddha; and I have helped refresh Bhante’s memories of his own work by reading him the section on the Sangha from The Three Jewels.

Of particular interest from the audio-book service was The Zoo-keeper’s Wife by Dianne Ackerman. The zoo was the Warsaw Zoo, and the zookeeper and his wife lived there during WW2 caring for their animals as best they could and helping Jews to escape. He has also enjoyed Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, the sequel to Wolf Hall. It was a birthday CD from Paramartha, and Bhante very much enjoyed Mantel’s vivid portrayal of the Tudor period. Finally, he has been listening to the Proms. Among the items he especially enjoyed were performances of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ and his Piano Concerto No. 4, Haydn’s ‘London Symphony’, a young Maltese tenor’s rendering of two famous operatic arias, and Rodrigo’s ‘Concerto de Aranjuez’.

July 2012

While what passes for summer passes us by, Bhante’s usual routine continues, and he waits patiently for a possible move in what we hope will be the not-too-distant future. Despite the inclement weather, he has been able to walk round the garden most days, which due to the rain is looking lusher and more floral than ever before. Visitors continue to come from near and far, and this month have included a group of women from Shrewsbury. Last month, as I mentioned in the previous diary, a group of women came from Dublin. What I did not mention before is that some of them have recently formed a new women’s community, which, at the time of their visit, they asked Bhante to name. The name he has subsequently chosen is ‘Silagandha Community’, which the community members have professed themselves thrilled by. Another new women’s community from London visited the previous month (which I omitted to mention), and having asked Bhante for a name in advance left Madhyamaloka proudly bearing the title of the ‘Maitrimandal Community’. Bhante is very pleased that more women’s communities are being set up.

On the literary side, Kalyanaprabha has come for several sessions with Bhante in connection with the editorial work she is doing on Beating the Drum, a collection of Bhante’s editorials in the Mahabodhi, for which she has written a very substantial introduction. Paramartha has read to Bhante The I Ching: A Biography by Richard J. Smith, which is in the ‘Lives of Great Religious Books’ series, as mentioned last month. Also, The Philosophy of John Norris of Bemerton by R. Acworth. Bhante thought this a very clearly written book, and enjoyed it very much. Norris was a seventeenth century Platonist who was also influenced by Descartes and Malebranche. The audio book service sent a CD of John Betjemen’s Summoned By Bells, his blank verse autobiography. This, too, Bhante enjoyed, especially as he had not read it. Otherwise, Bhante wanted to remind himself of the contents of his ‘Message to the Order’, and has had me read it to him. We have also started on Sangharakshita: A New Voice in the Buddhist Tradition, Subhuti’s overview of Bhante’s thought, which Bhante wanted to refresh his memory of so that he could see if there were any gaps in his thinking that needed filling in. As always, we continue to read Shabda, and most months we get through all the reportings-in, and at least some of the Threads and articles too. Bhante’s impression is that on the whole the quality of the reporting-in has improved.

June 2012

For much of the last month Bhante has been mainly occupied with producing a final edit of Living Wisely. This work has now been completed, and Bhante hopes that Windhorse will be able to publish it before too long. He has since returned to correspondence, which was largely squeezed out while we worked on the book. He also continues to see people most days, and has had visits from numerous groups, including five women from the Highlands of Scotland, three from Dublin, and Padmalila and the rest of the team from Lama’s Pyjamas in London.

Paramartha, when he is at home, has been reading to Bhante most evenings, and they have got through The Buddhas of Bamiyan by Llewelyn Morgan; Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison: A Biography by Martin E. Marty, which is in the ‘Lives of Great Religious Books’ series, other publications from which were mentioned last month; and Platonism and the Spiritual Life, a short work by George Santayana. Continuing the theme of Platonism, I have read to Bhante The Philosophy of Plotinus by Emile Brehier.

Bhante has been listening to CDs of two poets: Edward Thomas, and Philip Larkin. The latter CD was of the poet reading his own verse. Larkin reads very well, Bhante thought, and is becoming his favourite contemporary poet (contemporary with Bhante that is!).

A few times recently I have heard from people who are under the impression that Bhante has been having health difficulties, but I am glad to say that this is not true, and that he continues in good health for a man of his vintage.

May 2012

After a quiet period last month, Bhante has returned to receiving visitors most days. There are as many requests for meetings with him as ever, but he doesn’t have the energy to see so many people as before, so that it is becoming increasingly difficult to fit everyone in. Other than visitors, Bhante’s main focus at present is doing a final edit of Living Wisely, which he hopes to finish in the next month or two. I would like at this point to correct an error of mine. In a previous diary I referred to the Precious Garland seminar transcripts on which Living Wisely is based as having been edited for book form by Vidyadevi, when it fact it was mainly Jinananda who did this work.

Last month Paramartha read to Bhante The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography, and this month the two of them have gone through two more books from the same series: Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography by Garry Willis, and The Book of Mormon: A Biography by Paul C. Gutjahr. Bhante thinks it a very interesting series and looks forward to having further volumes read to him as they are published. Meanwhile, Bhante has again wanted to refresh his memory of one of his own books, and I have read him The FWBO and Protestant Buddhism: An Affirmation and a Protest. He considers this one of his most important works (as well one of the most neglected) and he hopes all Order members will read it.

The audio book service has sent The Old Man and the Sea, which Bhante had read many years ago in India (as mentioned in In The Sign of the Golden Wheel) and which he considers a masterpiece of short fiction. Also, Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor, which Bhante recommends to all those who think that in Triratna we talk too much! Lastly, he was impressed by Christ Stopped at Eboli, a modern classic by Carlo Levi, which he felt was well worth reading.

Bhante has been keeping well. His vision has now stabilised and he has been tested for new spectacles, which he will have received by the time you read this diary.

April 2012

For the first two weeks of April Bhante had a break from seeing visitors – the first such break that I have known him take. For the first week of this he was without his usual secretarial support, as I was away in Norfolk. Bhante was not idle, however, and by the time I returned he had finished the eighth instalment of ‘Reveries and Reminiscences’, and we managed to get it typed up and edited to his satisfaction in time for publication in May Shabda. The theme, which was suggested by Mangala, is music, and Bhante’s experience of it throughout his life.

While I was away Paramartha read to Bhante The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography by Donald S Lopez Jr. Bhante found it very interesting, and recommends it to others. He was turned on to the book by Paul Weeks, who contacted Bhante regarding Lama Govinda, about whom (among others) Paul is writing a dissertation, and who is mentioned in Lopez’s book. Otherwise, Bhante and I finished In the Sign of the Golden Wheel, and have nearly come to the end of Vishvapani’s biography of the Buddha.

Bhante’s health remains good. He has started trying to have two walks each day when possible, and is enjoying the Madhyamaloka garden even more than usual now that so many of the Spring flowers are out. One of Bhante’s fillings came out a few weeks ago, and he went to a new dentist to have the filling fixed as well as a general check-up. The treatment went well, and he is pleased with the new dentist.

March 2012

Bhante’s daily routine remains constant through the change of season, with snowdrops and daffodils now embellishing his daily walk. He has felt a little more easily tired recently, for whatever reason, but has still had visitors most days, including a group of women from Colchester, and a mixed group from Tonbridge in the company of Suryaketu. Suvajra came with a Tibetan lama friend, now living in Wales, and Avilacha and Taraprabha from Seattle also visited. Bhante conducted a baby blessing ceremony for Harrison, the new son of Shantideva and his wife Natalie, who were accompanied by Shantideva’s sister Rachel, a mitra.

Occasionally Bhante receives invitations to events, both inside and outside the Movement, which he usually has to turn down. One such circumstance was an invitation to attend a meeting at the Buddhist Society with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with representatives from various Buddhist traditions. Jnanavaca went in Bhante’s place, and was impressed by the Archbishop, who he described as ‘very intelligent, well informed and sincere’; though he also said he was left with a feeling of gratitude for Bhante’s ‘clarity, and the depth and breadth of [his] vision’.

Bhante has wanted to refresh his memory about some of his earlier writings, and had me read him Forty-Three Years Ago and Was the Buddha a Bhikkhu?. He also wanted to refresh his memory of In the Sign of the Golden Wheel, which we are now half-way through. He and Kalyanaprabha have been discussing the period of his life recounted in the book, as she is in the process of writing an introduction to a collection of Bhante’s editorials for the Mahabodhi Journal, which will eventually be published through Lulu. Also, Kalyanaprabha gave Bhante a copy of Oscar’s Books, which is about Oscar Wilde’s reading habits. Wilde was a great reader throughout his life, and Bhante and I have enjoyed dipping into the book together, looking for references to favourite writers, and learning of Wilde’s contact with them, his view of their work, or the impact they had upon him. As you will have read in ‘Reveries and Reminiscences VII’ in last month’s Shabda, Oscar Wilde is of particular interest to Bhante as one of his five ‘literary heroes’.

At the International Order Convention last August, Bhante received a gift of Amazon vouchers from the Order, to commemorate his 86th birthday. These vouchers have now been redeemed in exchange for Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Villette by Charlotte Bronte, and a Selection from Plutarch’s Greek Lives, all of which Bhante has listened to and appreciated. He has also enjoyed, from the audio book service, Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby, which he says was less about love than war, and in particular about the way in which Italian villagers risked their lives to help British soldiers that had escaped from German prisoner of war camps.

Meanwhile, the search for land is proceeding, and Bhante is hoping it won’t be long before there is definite news for him.

Vidyaruchi

February 2012

The end of January saw the completion of Bhante’s ‘Reveries and Reminiscences VII’, which indeed was the longest of the series so far, and which appears in these pages. The other literary project of the moment is the checking of Living Wisely, which, like Living Ethically, is based on transcripts of a seminar Bhante conducted on Nargarjuna’s Precious Garland, and which has been edited for book form by Vidyadevi. This work was interrupted by my going on retreat, which gave Bhante a quiet week and a relative holiday from correspondence. Other than this, there has been no disruption to the usual routine, except a few days in which a layer of snow made the paths of the Madhyamaloka garden too treacherous for the daily walk. Bhante has continued receiving visitors most days, including a group of women from the Brixton Sangha who came with Amarapushpa. Meanwhile, the land search turns its gaze northwards, and Bhante waits patiently to see what will turn up. Kalyanaprabha is continuing work on the Order library, and has now nearly finished the cataloguing of Bhante’s many books.

The audio book service has provided several choice offerings, including Simone de Beauvoir by Judith Okely, a critical study of the life and work of the famous feminist, from which she emerges as a not very likable person; Some Desperate Glory by Edwin Campion Vaughan, a vivid account of the horrors of life in the trenches during the First World War; and My Lucky Life in War, Revolution and Diplomacy by Sam Falle, which Bhante found well written and interesting.

The only health news, apart from a routine blood test and prescription review at the local surgery, is that Bhante went for a check up following on from his cataract operation. According to the consultant the eye had ‘healed beautifully’. Lastly, I am pleased to add that since the beginning of the year Bhante has been practising veganism, having been ‘convinced by the arguments’ expressed in Shabda and elsewhere.

Vidyaruchi

January 2012

As befits the time of the year it has been a quiet month for Bhante, with what may be the last Christmas he spends at Madhyamaloka marked, as usual, only by a meal with the community and a few guests followed by a chat round the log fire. This year there has been no snowy weather to preclude his walks in the garden, nor to check the flow of guests from here and there, which has included a group of women from Paris, on their way back from a retreat at Taraloka.

Bhante is in the thick of the seventh instalment of his ‘Reveries and Reminiscences’, which is turning into the longest of the series so far, and which should be ready for publication in next month’s Shabda. It is on the subject of his five literary heroes. The identities of the five I will leave for readers to find out for themselves, and to speculate about in the meantime if they are so inclined. Meanwhile, Bhante is enjoying revisiting the lives of these great men, and his memories of their impact upon him.

Literary discoveries of less long standing have been brought to Bhante from the audio book service, including Beyond a Boundary by CLR James, a history of cricket in the West Indies and much else; Ugly and Beyond Ugly by Constance Briscoe, a very moving autobiography by a black woman who, despite an awful childhood at the hands of a sadistic mother, managed to become a barrister and a judge; and Man of Wars by Alan Hankinson, a biography of William Russell, the famous Times war correspondent. Bhante found all these works fascinating, in their various ways.

As was foretold in the last diary, on 3rd January Bhante underwent a cataract operation on his left eye. All went smoothly, and, though there has been no dramatic change in Bhante’s vision, a slight improvement is discernible – in particular a greater vividness in his perception of blue and white.

Vidyaruchi


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