You left last Thursday, and that night I had a dream. I dreamed about my Auntie Kate. She was my mother’s elder sister, and when I was very young I often stayed with her in the rather dark upstairs flat in Fulham where she lived with Uncle Dan. She was extremely fond of me even though I was very naughty, pulling out her long hairpins when she had her afternoon nap or even tying her to the back of her chair. Far from minding she would only laugh at my tricks. She was indeed extremely fond of me, and I was extremely fond of her. The dream was quite a short one. I was in my mother’s room, waiting for the arrival of Auntie Kate. The room was small and comfortably furnished, like a small nest, and there were colourful rugs on the floor. It was not like any room that my mother had actually ever occupied. In the dream, as in many other dreams, I was of no particular age, and I was not doing anything. I was simply waiting for the arrival of Auntie Kate and listening for her step on the stairs. I eventually heard it, the door opened, and in walked Auntie Kate. She was no bigger than a very small child, and I had to go down on the floor so that we could embrace each other. It was an intensely emotional occasion for both of us. I then woke up. The dream was fled, but my heart was still filled with love for Auntie Kate.
You will agree that it was a strange dream, and I cannot think what might have occasioned it. Though I have dreamt of my mother a number of times, this was the first time I had dreamed of Auntie Kate. And why did she appear in the dream as a small child? The only connection I can make between the dream and a recent happening in my waking life is one that concerned Mallika, though admittedly it is a rather tenuous one. I had recently been told that eighty-five-year-old Mallika was planning to move from Bethnal Green to Aberdeen in order to be near her youngest daughter, even though the move would mean leaving behind all her sangha friends, some of whom had been helping her for years. The words that came to my mind when I heard of this were, ‘the leaves return to the tree’. In other words, when we suspect that we may not have much longer to live we often feel a strong urge to return to our place of origin. Mallika was of Scottish origin and perhaps it is not surprising that she should want to go back to Scotland and be near her daughter. My own place of origin was South London, I having been born in Stockwell and brought up in Tooting. Though I am unaware of any urge to go and spend my last days in South London, in recent years I have often dreamt of standing and waiting for the Tooting Broadway bus or Underground train. Sometimes it would arrive, sometimes not, and I would be left waiting. I have also dreamt that I was sitting in the Tooting Broadway bus and looking out of the window as I waited for the bus to arrive at its destination, where I got out and started walking towards my old home. In some dreams that home would be associated with my mother. In one such dream I was walking home with her and on the way we stopped at a pub, where she had a meal before we continued on our way. In a more recent dream I was with a group of friends and I was anxious because I had promised my mother to be back by eight o’clock and it was now nine-thirty. I would have to get a taxi, I said. Whereupon you stepped forward, saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll drive you to your mother’s place.’ On this occasion, as so often in real life, you were there when I needed you.
I certainly needed you towards the end of 2012. I was to move from Madhyamaloka, where I had lived for sixteen years, to my new home at Adhisthana; from a Birmingham suburb to the Herefordshire countryside. At the time I was quite ill. I was suffering from insomnia, which Temazepam sleeping tablets did little to relieve. Indeed, they made me feel worse. Moreover a doctor at the local surgery whom I had not seen before had prescribed a very high dose of Mirtazapine and this I was taking regularly with the Temazepam and my other medication. Thus during the last two weeks of February I was not at all in good shape. Yet the move still had to be made. In fact I felt that it had to be made as soon as possible. I had the strong conviction, whether rational or irrational I know not, that otherwise I could die before getting to Adhisthana, and I wanted desperately to get there and spend my last days within its peaceful shades. A great deal of packing had to be done, and done quickly. Ill as I was I helped Vidyaruchi pack the images and books from my study. You, almost single-handedly, packed everything else that was in the flat and in the treasury next door. This included crockery, kitchen utensils, clothes, books, pictures, box files, thangkas and more than ninety rupas of various kinds. You worked like a Trojan, if that is not too hackneyed an expression, or even like a demon, but the term would be incompatible with what one of your friends calls your ‘angelic disposition’. Eventually, everything was packed, and at 11.30 a.m. on Sunday, 24 February 2013, we set off for Adhisthana. You were at the wheel, tired but determined. With us in the car was Vidyaruchi, while Ashvajit followed in his own vehicle. We had not gone very far when I started feeling nauseous, and we had to stop for a few minutes. As we joined the motorway you warned me that it would not be possible for you to drive as slowly as I might have wished. An hour and a half later we had reached our destination and were being welcomed by the Adhisthana team.
Two and a half years have passed since that day. The rest of 2013 proved to be a difficult time for me. Adhisthana was still a building site, with noisy heavy machinery operating each day of the week until August, when Adhisthana had its official opening. I was still very ill, with only very small improvements in my condition from month to month. Fortunately, my new GP reduced my Mirtazapine from the highest to the lowest dose, which seemed to help. I continued to suffer from insomnia, and I often felt – and looked – exhausted. I also suffered from night sweats, which were often so heavy that I had to change my pyjamas and even my bedding in the course of the night. My first months in my new home were thus neither very peaceful nor very happy. Nonetheless, I saw visitors from time to time and kept up with my correspondence as best I could. Dictating letters, especially letters to old friends, was one of my few sources of pleasure. It provided me with an outlet for creativity, albeit a limited one, and the more creative I could be the better I felt. My principal source of pleasure was the evenings in study and discussion I spent with a close friend. This friend, as you know, was you. You were not always at Adhisthana. There were times when your professional work took you to London and other parts of England, but wherever you were you kept in touch with me and made sure that I was being looked after. I sometimes think that without you I would not have come through 2013 even as well as I did. Nothing was too much trouble for you, even when it meant sacrificing your own comfort and convenience. As I came to realize, there were times when you sacrificed even your health and well-being for my sake. More than once I tried to expostulate with you on this account, but you were always emphatic that there was no question of any sacrifice. You did what you did of your own free will and you would not have chosen to be in any other situation. Yet I know that 2013 was a difficult year for you, as it was for me. Even so, you never complained.
By the end of the year my health had improved sufficiently for you to be able spend a month in New Zealand with your mother, leaving me in the hands of Buddhadasa (who had arrived in April), of Suvajra (who had finally arrived in November), and of Ashvajit who had become my secretary in succession to Vidyaruchi. On your return at the end of January 2014, it did not take us long to get back into the previous year’s routine. Indeed I had not departed from it very much while you were away. One of the things I had most missed during your absence, apart from your actual presence, was our evening study and discussion. This we did, as before, on those days when you were ‘at home’, though I cannot remember when we started. What I do remember is that having enjoyed a dip into Neoplatonism we immersed ourselves first in the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra, then in the much longer Śūraṅgamasamādhi Sūtra. As we soon discovered, if we had not known it before, the two sūtras are very different in character, and breathe as it were different atmospheres. The Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra is of a more philosophical nature, while the Śūraṅgamasamādhi Sūtra is more mythical, though in their different ways both point to the transcendental dimension of existence. While the first called for more discussion, as well as for note taking, on your part, the second demanded a more imaginative response. Though I had long wanted to study the Śūraṅgamasamādhi Sūtra, I did not at first take to it, and it was only after we had spent two or three evenings on it that I began to feel at all at home in its radiant world. It was a world inhabited by Buddhas and bodhisattvas, by gods and goddesses of various kinds, and towards the end of the sūtra there appears the cunning and malignant figure of Māra, the Evil One. As the weeks and months of study and discussion went by I felt that I was not merely a spectator of this world but living in it and breathing its unique atmosphere. Moreover, the sūtra came to be increasingly dominated by the figure of the great and glorious Mañjuśrī, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, who appears as a supremely beautiful youth clad in princely garments and holding to his heart the scripture of Perfect Wisdom. With this figure I was already familiar, through my practice of the Mañjughoṣa Stuti Sādhanā, but the Śūraṅgamasamādhi Sūtra gave me a much more vivid awareness of his presence and of his true nature. He was the veritable embodiment of the dharma niyāma and to be worshipped and meditated upon as such. Whether I shared this insight with you at the time I cannot remember. Thus the Śūraṅgamasamādhi Sūtra became a permanent part of my spiritual life, as I believe it did yours.
Thus far had my recollections led me when I reminded myself that although my short-term memory was reliable as regards events, it was less reliable as regards the chronology of those events. I therefore decided that I had better consult you about the sequence of our studies, as I knew you had kept a diary at the time. I could not consult you face to face, as you are now in New Zealand, having left Adhisthana a few days before I started writing this letter to you. I therefore had to consult you by telephone last night. This morning came a message with the desired information. According to your diary, we studied the two sūtras not in 2014, as I had supposed, but during the last four months of 2013. The discrepancy does not affect my recollection of the two sūtras themselves, especially that of the Śūraṅgamasamādhi Sūtra. The world of this sūtra is as much beyond time as it is beyond space, and while I was in it I too was beyond time. Strictly speaking, I should not even be locating my experience of the sūtra in the past. As I have already said, it remains a permanent part of my spiritual life.
Although we may not have studied the two sūtras in 2014, we did study other things on the evenings when you were ‘at home’, or at least, we engaged in discussion. Sometimes the discussion was very personal, and went very deep. During the same year my health continued to improve, especially after I stopped taking Zopiclone sleeping tablets, and it has continued to improve this year. By the end of May you were able to take me away on holiday. We spent six days in north Somerset. This was the farthest I had been away from Adhisthana since my arrival there nearly two years earlier, and at first I was concerned that I might not be able to make the journey. But my fears proved to be unfounded. I enjoyed the journey and enjoyed the holiday itself.
The bungalow we had taken was rather isolated and very quiet, and in the course of our stay we went out on only three of the six days we were there. Our first expedition was to Burnham-on-Sea and the coast, for you will remember that I very much wanted to see the sea, which I had not seen since we were in Felixstowe five years earlier. I did see the thin, dark blue line of the sea in the distance, but there was a strong wind blowing, and we stayed on the promenade only long enough for you to push me for a few dozen yards in the wheelchair we had brought with us. You did some shopping and we had a drink in a café in the smart little town. While I had not seen Burnham-on-Sea before, Glastonbury was a place with which we were both familiar. We did not attempt to climb the Tor but from below gazed up at the tower that crowns its summit, and a sociable fellow pilgrim was kind enough to take a photograph of us with the Tor and its tower in the background. This photo, together with a couple of others, you later put on my Facebook page. We also spent some time in the historic little town, where we explored the second-hand bookshops and had a drink in a rambling old café with rough wooden tables and benches. While you were getting our drinks, I became aware that sitting at the next table there was a group of young people and that from them there drifted towards me an aroma with which I had been familiar in the sixties and seventies. Our last expedition was to Cheddar Gorge, which I had not seen before but which you had visited with Jinaraja. I had not realized that it was so big or so impressive, and as we drove through it I gazed up at the rocky cliffs on either side with feelings of wonder and awe. Having driven through the whole length of the gorge, which was much longer than I had expected, we turned round and drove back through it to the little town from which Cheddar Gorge takes its name. Here we could find not a single empty parking space and in any case there was no disabled parking. We therefore drove on, and after a few miles were so fortunate as to come upon a wayside tea-house.
All three outings took place in the morning. We left the bungalow soon after breakfast and returned in time for lunch, which tended to be a late one. During our stay you cooked not only all our lunches, dinners, and breakfasts but also did all the washing up, laundering and hoovering, doing everything with your usual smoothness and efficiency. Our afternoons and evenings, and the whole day when we did not go anywhere, we spent quietly at the bungalow. When planning our holiday we had talked of the study we would do and the discussions we would have, but so far as I remember we had only one session of study and there was little discussion between us. In fact we talked very little. Our study was concerned, I think, with the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra, which we had been studying during the previous two months for the second time. I was particularly struck by the fact that according to the sūtra the Buddha’s teaching was a miśra dharma, or a mixed, or mingled, or integrated dharma, drawing as it did upon the teachings of all three yānas, these being the yānas of the śrāvaka, the pratyekabuddha, and the bodhisattva. As I had quickly perceived, Triratna teaches a miśra dharma, drawing as it does not only on these three yānas but drawing on, and integrating, teachings from all the major forms of Buddhism. When not cooking or cleaning, you spent much of your time reading and meditating or sitting outside in the sun, which I also did once or twice. I did virtually nothing apart from eating and sleeping. I felt no need to talk, or even to think. There seemed to be between us and all around us a great ocean of silence in which we were both content to live, move, and have our being. Later on, when we had returned to Adhisthana, you in fact remarked that it had been more like a retreat than a holiday.
June and July and the first three weeks of August passed quickly, and soon our holiday was a beautiful dream. Nor was it long before you were back at work, travelling to London and other places, while I returned to seeing visitors and dealing with correspondence. Adhisthana was then a hive of activity. Besides servicing the different retreats that were going on there, the resident sangha was busy making arrangements to celebrate my ninetieth birthday with a series of special events. Neither of us had much to do with these arrangements, though we could not help knowing what was going on. Whenever you were at home we continued spending our evenings in study and discussion. This time we started going through the papers that Subhuti had produced on the basis of his discussions with me five or six years ago. We had gone through three papers, and were going through a fourth, when you received the news that your mother was seriously ill. For a couple of days you were quite perplexed, not knowing what to do. You wanted to be with me on my birthday, but you also wanted to do the best you could for your mother. In the end it was decided that you should leave for New Zealand immediately. You left Adhisthana on Thursday, 20 August, having booked a flight that would leave Heathrow the following day. To an observer our parting might have seemed a very matter of fact affair, but each knew what the other felt and there was no need for words.
Three days later, on Sunday 23 August, you were in Christchurch from whence you sent me your first letter. It was a clear, crisp day, you wrote, with the mountains covered with snow. From Christchurch you flew to Invercargill where you found your mother in good spirits, all things considered. It was not long before you realized, however, that you might have to remain in New Zealand for quite a long time. Whether the time be long or short, your absence will surely be felt by those of whose lives you are an important part. Deji will feel it, as will the depleted Annexe Team, which now consists of Buddhadasa, Suvajra, and Sthanashraddha, my new secretary, assisted from time to time by Mahamati and Yashodeva. I, too, will feel your absence, of course. How much I will feel it, you only will know.
Two days after your departure, when you were still in the air, Adhisthana saw the launching of my new book, A Moseley Miscellany. It was not clear whether or not I would be attending the event, but in the end I did attend it, and was deeply touched by the reception I received from the four hundred Order members who had gathered in the marquee. In the evening, after dinner, I wrote an account of the launch while it was fresh in my memory, and this account I now insert in the present letter.
Buddhadasa, Suvajra, and I left the Annexe for the big marquee a few minutes before five. As we did so, there were loud rumbles of thunder and the rain fell very heavily. We drove through ‘tent city’, which I had not seen before, and up to the back entrance of the marquee, where I was received by Yashodeva and Lokeshvara. Once inside I took my seat on my mother’s chair (transported to the marquee for the occasion) with Parami on my right and Buddhadasa on my left. All this time, everyone was chanting the Śākyamuni mantra. Parami then said a few words, after which Subhuti very capably introduced Kalyanaprabha at some length. While he was speaking the rain poured down heavily, so that he had to raise his voice above the uproar despite having the help of the microphone. Kalyanaprabha herself then spoke. She spoke very beautifully, and fortunately the rain stopped just as she began. Her voice was loud and clear, and she gave a résumé of the contents of A Moseley Miscellany. I was then given a large birthday cake and presented with a beautifully bound birthday card from the thousand and more Order members who had contributed to the £110,000 for the Complete Works and for translations. This was the signal for everyone to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Buddhadasa, Suvajra and I then returned to the Annexe, by which time the skies had cleared. The whole event had lasted for about 45 minutes. I was told that as I entered the marquee many people, both men and women, were in tears. One thing I forgot to mention was that after I had taken my seat I was garlanded by a young Dharmacharini with a flower garland that she and Sanghamani had made. Suvajra now tells me that several Order members who went outside the marquee while Subhuti was introducing Kalyanaprabha saw a rainbow over the Annexe!
My ninetieth birthday came four days after the book launch and I spent it quietly. Not much was happening at Adhisthana, and after lunch Suvajra drove me round to the Library, where Saddhanandi and Danasamudra gave me a guided tour of the Nine Decades exhibition that had been set up there. Fortunately you were able to see the exhibition shortly before you left, so I shall not attempt to describe it. Suffice it to say that it showed both imagination and professionalism on the part of those who set it up and that it would have graced any museum. So far as I remember, the idea for the exhibition came either from you or was the outcome of a discussion between you and Saddhanandi. During the months preceding my birthday Saddhanandi and I met up every few weeks, or even every few days, depending on circumstances. We dealt with one decade at a time. Saddhanandi would describe the three objects representing the decade, then ask me about them and about my life at that time. She was an excellent interviewer, putting questions that enabled me to express myself fully and freely. By the time we reached the ninth decade we had produced what proved to be a highly popular overview of my life, and a friendship had sprung up between us.
I have now come to the end of this odd ‘Reverie-cum-Reminiscence’ of mine, cast in the form of a letter to you, and I must admit that I do not know how to proceed. Perhaps a reverie or a reminiscence simply goes on and on till it peters out and I think the time has now come for me to say finis. I have enjoyed writing it even if I’ve not always written about enjoyable things, and I hope that you will enjoy reading it.
Yours with much love, as ever, Bhante