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Sangharakshita's Diary 2009

December 2009

Bhante has been continuing to eschew travel, but has nonetheless been kept busy by his daily meetings with visitors, as well as correspondence, which he has been giving more attention to, despite his finding dictating letters difficult. His only trip out of Birmingham was to Worcester, to meet sangha members at their new centre, where they had a discussion mainly on the topic of Team Based Right Livelihood. He has enjoyed meeting with two groups of men at Madhyamaloka, one from Croydon, and another all the way from Dublin. Conversation with the latter group centred largely around Bhante’s article The Path of Regular and Irregular Steps, which they had come over to study with Dhammaloka and Abhaya.

Bhante has continued to have me read to him. We finished Nagapriya’s Visions of the Mahayana, which Bhante enjoyed, describing it as ‘a well researched, sympathetic, but not uncritical account of the Mahayana in India and the Far East’. I also read him an article by Bernard Stevens, a mitra from Belgium, which explored the Japanese philosopher Nishida’s thought in relation to the Abhidharma. Bhante enjoys hearing reportings- in from Shabda, and we get through as much as we can of each issue.

The RNIB audio book service that Bhante has recently joined seems to be working out well, and he has particularly appreciated two of its offerings recently. Firstly The Last Days of the Raj by Trevor Royle, which describes the political and economic background of Bhante’s early years in India. Of course he knew much of it already, but he also learned things that were new to him. The second audio book was Peter the Great, by Derek Wilson, which Bhante described as giving a ‘thorough and interesting, if lurid light on Russia past and present’.

Bhante’s health has been stable. On Wednesday 16th December he had another lucentis injection into his eye, which is the last planned for the time being.


October 2009

Having travelled quite a lot in the summer, Bhante has been enjoying a quiet period at Madhyamaloka, which he intends to continue through the winter. Apart from attending to correspondence, he has been receiving visitors every day, some of them from far away places.
The only other events of note have been dinner engagement at one of the Birmingham communities, and a session with a seminar led by Vishvapani held here at Madhyamaloka, on the life of the Buddha. Bhante was happy to spend an hour or so with the seminar participants, especially since he considers it very important to know of the Buddha’s life, especially through acquaintance with the Pali Scriptures.
Bhante finished hearing Gombrich’s book, What the Buddha Thought, which gives an assessment of the Buddha as a thinker. He considers it a useful book, and thinks it may especially have a good effect in India, where there is still a popular misconception of the Buddha of the kind propagated by Swami Vivekananda, who said ‘..it is possible to have the intellect of a Shankara with the heart of a Buddha’, implying that the Buddha did not have such an intellect! Bhante, of course, contributed to correcting this wrong view in his essay Buddhism as Philosophy and Religion, published more than fifty years ago. We have now started on Nagapriya’s new book Visions of Mahayana Buddhism, which Bhante is enjoying. He has also recently joined a talking book service which will hopefully help to feed his continued appetite for learning and artistic enjoyment.
As I write Bhante is at the hospital for a further Lucentis injection into his eye. Another one is planned in December. Other than this, his health has been reasonable, though his energy seems slowly to be running down, to the extent that he considered it necessary to cancel all engagements that he felt would be too demanding.


September 2009

Bhante has had no trips away from Birmingham since the Conventions, but has nonetheless had a pretty busy schedule of meetings, both with individuals and groups, the latter category having consisted of a GFR group from Croydon on one occasion, and a group of friends from Rivendell, including Suryaketu, on another. A highlight for Bhante was a visit from Nityabandhu for a weekend in September. They spent their time together visiting the local parks and enjoying each other’s company.
Bhante also met with Mahamati and Subhuti over a number of days, for a conversation about various aspects of his character and their bearing upon his life.
Paramartha has been on solitary retreat for two weeks, and I have therefore had the opportunity to spend some evenings with Bhante, in which I have been reading to him from Gombrich’s new book What the Buddha Thought. It offers revealing insights into how the Buddha’s ideas were framed in the language of his culture. It is also interesting to note how familiar some the ideas in the book will be to us in the F/WBO, Bhante’s thinking being so ahead of its time.
Bhante continues to explore his enthusiasm for English literature. I recently had the unusual experience of finding a classic novel that I have read and Bhante has not, whereupon I obtained the audio book. The novel in question was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Bhante was not as impressed by it as I had been, but was nonetheless glad to have filled that particular gap in his knowledge.
Though Bhante’s health has generally been reasonably good, there have been a number of incidents recently that may serve to remind us all that he is an old man. In August he felt unwell enough to call NHS Direct, who, perhaps upon hearing of his medical history, immediately advised calling an ambulance crew round to check up on him. It was decided that no further checks were needed. Now as I write (on 13th October) Bhante is at the doctor having had some chest pain that he thought best to have checked. He continues to find acupuncture very beneficial, though his acupuncturist thinks his heart has weakened a little recently. In view of this and other incidents Bhante is considering whether or not to cancel some of his forthcoming engagements, especially those which make heavy demands upon his energy.

July/August 2009

After Bhante’s visit to Cambridge, detailed in the last report, his next visit was to the Glasgow and Edinburgh centres, accompanied by Dharmamati. Bhante and Dharmamati were accommodated by the very warm and hospitable Shantiketu and Jyotipakshini at their house in a pleasant suburb of Glasgow. From there on the following day Bhante made an excursion to  the Edinburgh Buddhist Centre in time for an evening meal with Order members. After this the doors were opened to the public and Bhante launched his two new books The Essential Sangharakshita and Living Ethically by giving a short talk followed by a book signing.

The following evening Bhante gave a slightly longer talk at the Glasgow Centre. Again he introduced both the books, mentioned above, but to the delight of his audience included a commentary on his poem ‘Meditation’ composed in 1947. It is a short poem, so, it has been included at the end of this report.

Bhante also met people individually and in small groups for meals.

A week later Bhante, again accompanied by Dharmamati, found himself ‘royally’ accommodated by Saccavicaya, at his house near Blackburn. This was the base from which visits to the Northern Centres of Liverpool, Lancaster, and Blackburn would be undertaken. On the day of arrival and after Bhante’s afternoon rest he was driven to Liverpool where he had an evening meal with the local sangha, at a mitra’s home. After that he was taken to the hired room that the Liverpool Sangha use as their Centre. There, as in the Scottish centres, he gave a short talk introducing his latest books followed by a book signing. The next Bhante went to Vidyacitta’s house near Lancaster where he had meal with local Sangha.  After that he was taken to the Friends Meeting House (Quakers) in Lancaster, where the local sangha hire rooms for classes. There he gave another talk to launch his books and sign copies. The following evening Bhante enjoyed a meal with the Order members from Liverpool, Lancashire and Blackburn at the Blackburn Buddhist Centre. This was followed by an informal Q&A session with those Order members. The next day’s event was at the Blackburn Buddhist centre again, this time it was their turn for Bhante to give a talk to launch his latest books followed by a book signing. Bhante also saw some people individually during his stay.   

Only a few days later Bhante, accompanied by Paramartha found himself winging his way to Valencia. Bhante was primarily in Valencia to officially open their new centre, but, also took the opportunity to run two Q&A sessions one for Order members and the other for Women who had asked for Ordination. He opened the centre by giving a talk on … (please ask Bhante to fill this in as well as anything else he would like to say here). He also purchased a Panama hat which some of you may have seen him wearing during the conventions.
Two days after their return from Valencia, Bhante and Paramartha, were off again, though this time only as far as Ipswich to open the new centre. There he gave a talk to open the centre as well as launching his latest books.
The following weekend Bhante gave a Q&A session for Private preceptors at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre.
The weekend after that Bhante led a second session of study on the Ratnaguna Samcaya gatha for a group of men ordained by Arthapriya at Madhyamaloka.
Combined and Men’s conventions.
Bhante stayed at Padmaloka during both the combined and Men’s conventions.
During the combined convention Bhante attended all of the colloquia sessions and met with small groups of Order members for meals. On the last full day there was a book launch during which Bhante gave a long talk the highlight of which was his emphasis on Sila not only being ethics but including manners. On the Men’s convention Bhante did not go to any events apart from a talk by Subhuti. He did, however, meet Order members individually and eat meals with small groups.
Over this period, when at Madhyamaloka, Bhante continued, as usual, to see people individually. The most noteworthy of which was two visits by David Brazier from the Amida trust. He is author of the book New Buddhism which Bhante has been recommending order members to read particularly the chapters on Critical Buddhism. He also had his daily walk in the garden and
Bhante’s health
Bhante’s health continues to be reasonably good. He has recently completed a series of Lacentis injections to inhibit macular degeneration. This appears to have been successful in arresting further degeneration.
Change of Bhante’s secretary.

Vidyaruci recently returned from being ordained at Guhyaloka and he has now taken over fully as Bhante’s secretary. For me personally it has been a great privilege and honor to work closely with Bhante over the last 3 years.
Dharmamati - Madhyamaloka

June 2009

The first activity that Bhante did since the last report was to lead a study seminar on the Virya chapter from Bodhicaryavatara with 4 Order members and 4 Mitras from Belgium and Holland.
This was followed by a visit to Cambridge accompanied by Paramartha and Dharmamati. On the Friday evening of his arrival he met up with the Windhorse publications team in their new offices at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre.  On the Saturday morning he had a Q&A session with the men who had requested Ordination.  In the afternoon he gave a 50 minute talk launching his latest books The Essential Sangharakshita and Living Ethically followed by a book signing. On the Sunday in the context of an Order day Bhante did a first for many a year, much to the delight of those Order members present, he led the Green Tara sadhana.  In the afternoon he gave a Q&A session for Order member. On the Monday morning, the day of his departure, he met up with the Women who had asked for Ordination.
On a day to day level Bhante continues to deal with correspondence, engage with various issues concerning the F/WBO, meet with people individually nearly every day, as well as go for his daily walk. He has also nearly finished listening to Vajragupta’s ‘History of the FWBO’.
Bhante’s health continues very well and he has recently been receiving a series of Lacentis injections to arrest the macular degeneration. This is the second series of these injections which, although not having improved Bhante’s eyesight, appear to have been successful in arresting further degeneration.
Dharmamati - Madhyamaloka

January 2009

"In January, Sangharakshita was filmed being interviewed by Mahamati in honour of the occasion of the Order Convention at Bodh Gaya, and the film was shown for the first time in India on 24 February. Sangharakshita considers the occasion of the first Convention to be held in India to have been a very significant one for the history of the Order.

"The recording of the interview with Sangharakshita that was shown at the convention in Bodhgaya is available for general viewing on VideoSangha. Copies can be ordered from ClearVision.

"Since then, aside from being kept busy by a steady stream of personal appointments, Sangharakshita has participated in two question-and-answer sessions on events hosted by the Dharmapala College. The last such event was attended by Nityabandhu, who, having left England almost exactly a year ago to set up the FWBO's first Centre in Poland , returned to his old room in Sangharakshita's flat for the duration of his stay.

"Matt, Sangharakshita's secretary, has had the pleasure and privilege of reading to him from David Loy's snappily titled book Money Sex War Karma, which looks at various contemporary issues from a Buddhist perspective. Sangharakshita found it very interesting and stimulating, and recommends the book to Order members. You’ll find it reviewed by Nagapriya on the WBO’s Western Buddhist Review website.

"Sangharakshita's health has generally been stable, though he is easily tired, and in January he was forced to leave Bristol, where he had planned to lead a weekend of study, early, due to having slept badly. In February he had the first of a series of injections into his left eye, which, it is hoped, will slow down the macular degeneration, and maybe even improve his vision slightly. He is due another such injection on 25 March, and another a month later.

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