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Sangharakshita's Diary 2011

December 2011

December 10th saw Bhante giving a talk in Birmingham, at the launch of his new book Dear Dinoo: Letters to a Friend. It was his first public talk for more than a year, and his first time speaking at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre for around five. Preceding him at the lectern was Kalyanaprabha, who spoke movingly about her experience of engaging with the project - editing the letters that form the substance of the book, and writing extensive notes and an introduction. Then Bhante addressed the assembly, and surprised many –perhaps including himself! – by speaking for nearly an hour. The unifying theme of the talk was around letter writing of various kinds and at various points in history, which allowed enough scope for Bhante to touch on topics as diverse as the illusory nature of money, the contrast between the teachings of Jesus and St Paul’s version of Christianity, and even Bhante’s next rebirth. We were also, of course, introduced to Dinoo, the Parsee lady to whom the letters of the book are addressed. The talk was filmed by the good people of Clear Vision, and I expect will be available online by the time you read this. Bhante was pleased with how the launch went, and pleased that so many people showed up including Sangha members from Nottingham, Cardiff and Manchester.

A couple of weeks before the book launch, Bhante enjoyed a brief visit from Nityabandhu, who had been to Padmaloka with Wojtek, one of the Krakow centre’s postulants. Among his many other visitors has been a group of women from London - two English, one German, one Dutch - who have just started a new women’s community.

Bhante’s audio book consumption has included Norse Myths by R I Page, which he found interesting but not nearly so beautiful as the Greek myths, and Persuasion by Jane Austen, which he had read many years ago and which he enjoyed even more this time. He and I finished Facing Mount Kanchenjunga, and Bhante commented that he was surprised how much he remembered of the events the book describes.

Early in January Bhante will have a cataract operation on his left eye, and he went to the hospital a few weeks ago to do the preliminary paperwork. It is hoped that the operation will bring about some improvement in his vision.


November 2011

The big news this month is the publication of Dear Dinoo: Letters to a Friend, which can be ordered from Lulu. Bhante’s copies have arrived through the post, and he is quite satisfied with the quality of the finished product. Kalyanaprabha was responsible for editing the letters referred to in the title of the book, and for writing the introduction and notes, and she hopes to do more literary work for Bhante. Indeed, Bhante’s only trip away from Madhyamaloka, other than to the park, was to Kalyanaprabha’s flat, a few doors down, in order to discuss further projects.

Among the flow of visitors from here and there, various collections of people have come to pay their respects and spend some time with Bhante, including a group of youngsters from the Paris sangha who were on their way to the big annual young Buddhists’ retreat, some postulants from a women’s GFR group in Croydon, a mitra study group from Cambridge, and a team of Karuna fundraisers who were in the last week of a highly successful appeal in Birmingham, led by Amalavajra.

Bhante and I have started reading Facing Mount Kanchenjunga, which is bringing back vivid memories for Bhante about his early years in Kalimpong. Also, Paramartha has read him Plutarch’s Treatise on Isis and Osiris. Audio books that Bhante has enjoyed include Proved Innocent by Gerry Conlon, one of the ‘Gilford Four’, a horrific account of a scandalous miscarriage of justice; Cranford by Mrs Gaskell, which Bhante enjoyed even more than he did when he first read it many years ago; and Later Than We Thought by Rene Cutforth in which the author reflects on how the events of the 1930s affected him.

There is good health news to report. As mentioned in last month’s diary, Bhante underwent a scan, the results from which have now come back, and reveal that the problems he was suffering from in relation to his digestion were a result of mild diverticulosis, which apparently is nothing to worry about.


October 2011

The highlight of the last month seems to have been Bhante’s visit to Maes Gwyn, Subhuti and Srimala’s property in the wet and sheep-filled hills of North Wales. I had the pleasure of driving Bhante there and back – 5 hours of driving altogether – and we arrived late morning to a warm welcome from the two residents. After and tea and cake in Srimala’s cottage. Subhuti and I left Bhante and Srimala together for a while, then showed Bhante down to Subhuti’s lodgings while Srimala prepared a tasty lunch. After lunch Bhante rested in the guest quarters, after which we gathered in the atmospheric shrine room, with its striking blue Buddha set against a grey slate wall. Here Bhante recited some verses of blessing, and photos were taken. For the drive back we took the scenic route across the mountains (which is also quicker), and enjoyed miles of stunning views of heather-covered hillside and glacial valley. A day or two later, Bhante commented that the day was the most enjoyable he had had for a long time, and that he had rarely experienced such positive good-will as from our hosts at Maes Gwyn.

Other than the trip to Wales it has been a quiet few weeks. It looked for a while as though Bhante would be moving to Wales, but in the end it was decided that the traffic noise was prohibitive – so back to the drawing board, and a psychological adjustment required for all those involved. Meanwhile, Bhante had dinner with a group of Men’s Regional Order Convenors, who were staying and meeting at Madhyamaloka for a few days; and his flow of visitors continued unabated, including a group from the Tonbridge sangha, accompanied by Vidyakaya.

Part V of Bhante’s ‘Reveries and Reminiscences’ was completed. It may be the last of the series, and it is published herein. Bhante has not been listening to audio books much, though he and I did finish Blake’s Milton.

Bhante’s inflamed cyst in his neck now seems to have healed, but he continues to have trouble with his digestive system, in connection with which he has just had a scan at the hospital.

September & August 2011

Now it is autumn, the transition to which Bhante and I both thought seemed to happen unusually quickly this year; and now I must write of some of Bhante’s activities of the last two months. The most notable was his trip to Norfolk, the main purpose of which was to attend two days of the Combined Convention. Paramartha drove him to Padmaloka, where he stayed for five days, receiving various friends, as well as visiting Aloka and Padmajyoti at their home in Norwich. Bhante went to Wymondham College on two days: Thursday 19th and Saturday 21st August. On the first of these he heard Dhammadinna’s talk, and had tea with India Order members, then lunch with some from Mexico. On the second day he had lunch with the team from the one-year Karuna Appeal, then attended the celebration of his birthday, with the cake cutting followed by entertainment provided by Order members from all over the world. The evening before his return to Birmingham he met with, and gave his blessing to, the first meeting of the International Council of the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community.

The time in Norfolk was only the second time Bhante has left Birmingham this year, and the first that involved spending more than a day away. Perhaps Bhante’s disinclination to travel in part stems from a wish to save his energy for the eventual move to the countryside. Hopes of a suitable property were recently raised by Chantmarle Manor, but we were beaten by our competitors, and the search continues. Though Bhante feels no particular inclination to move anywhere, and would be quite happy to live out his days at Madhyamaloka, he nonetheless feels the call of duty, and believes the project, including his presence on the new land for his remaining years, is the best way to safeguard his legacy for future generations of Triratna practitioners.

Hard at work in anticipation for the move is Kalyanaprabha, who continues cataloguing books for the Order library, necessitating the periodic removal of batches from the many volumes in Bhante’s study, shortly followed by their return with the addition of numbered stickers. Kalyanaprabha has also been nearing the end of her work on Dear Dinoo: Letters to a Friend, a book of letters from Bhante to his old friend Dinoo Dubash, and I am told that the first copies should be back from the printers some time in October. Bhante is often to be found stopping by the library on his way back from his daily walk, to talk over some detail or other of one of these projects.

Bhante’s own literary work took a pause in August, though since the last diary he has finished part IV of his ‘Reveries and Reminiscences’, which appears in these pages, and made a small start on a fifth instalment. He has, however, continued feasting on choice morsels from the world of audio books, including The Magician of Lublin, (abridged) by Isaac Bashevis Singer, which he thought gave a vivid picture of a certain slice of Polish life towards the end of the Nineteenth Century; The Galleys of Lapanto by Jack Beeching, which tells the fascinating story of the events leading up to the crucial naval battle which prevented the Ottoman Empire from extending further into Europe; and How Can We Know? By A N Wilson, a spiritual journey in which the well known author makes his way through atheism and Roman Catholicism to a kind of liberal Anglicanism. In August Bhante and I finally finished the Gandhavyuha, which my records tell me we began reading back in November. We have since entered an imaginative realm of a different kind: the complex symbolic world of William Blake and his Milton. Meanwhile Ashvajit, on nights when he has stayed over with Bhante, has been reading summaries of various works by Kierkegaard, which Bhante thought very well written, and was struck by some correspondences with his own thinking. Other reading has included Jayarava’s essay ‘Is Paticca-Samuppada a Theory of Everything’, and an article on Metta Bhavana in Sarvastivada by Bikkhu Dhammajoti. Bhante has also been listening to some of the promenade concerts on radio 3 and particularly enjoyed Mozart’s last piano concerto and Mendelssohn’s Elija. On hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony he had the heretical thought that it was much too long and that each of its four movements was too long, especially the last.

Amongst the usual steady stream of visitors has been a group of Spanish ladies – postulants who were on their way back from Tiratanaloka, for whom Parami acted as translator during the meeting; a women’s mitra group from Liverpool, who were so numerous that they had to split into two and come on different days; three Indian Dharmacharis, members of the men’s ordination team, who spent a few days staying at Madhyamaloka; and three members of the team responsible for developing Triratna’s presence in Bodh Gaya.

Bhante’s health has generally been good, though while away in Norfolk a cyst on his neck became inflamed, and he commenced a course of antibiotics, which caused some unpleasant side effects.

July 2011

Literary work, old and new, has been the main theme of the last month. Bhante’s series of ‘Reveries and Reminiscences’ is now coming to the end of its fourth instalment (the third appears in this month’s Shabda), and the writing, dictating, checking, correcting and revising of this is a daily task. Bhante has had me read to him from quite diverse material related to the writing, either to check some fact, or to stimulate his imagination.

Bhante has been pleased to see the new, revised edition of A Guide to the Buddhist Path released at last, and hopes it will see a good circulation. He was also pleased to see a review of his Ambedkar and Buddhism by Yoginder Sikand, sent to Bhante by Lokamitra. It was a long review and Bhante thought it did justice to his book.

Though Bhante has not been listening to many audio books, he has greatly enjoyed hearing a CD of Satyadaka reading his own translation of Heine’s The North Sea, and described it as ‘an impressive piece of work’. Satyadaka was inspired to attempt translating the poem after reading the first part of Bhante’s ‘Looking Back’ series, published in Shabda last year. In his account of his time with Paramartha in Ipswich searching for traces of his Lingwood ancestors, Bhante mentions his longstanding admiration of Heine’s poem in the course of describing the visit they made to Felixtowe, to see the sea after which the poem is named.

Bhante and I have continued following Sudhana’s adventures in the Gandhavhuya Sutra, and as the hero has finally reached Vairocana’s tower, there is good reason to think we may finish in the next month. I also read him Sulak Sivaraskha’s book The Wisdom of Sustainability: Buddhist economics for the 21st Century, which he thought an inspired sermon on the need for a society more in accordance with Buddhist ideals.

June 2011

The last month has seen Bhante engage in a number of encounters that are somewhat unusual. The first was with Maitrivir-Nargarjuna, an Indian Dhammachari based in Hyderabad, who came to England for a month or so. Over three days he interviewed Bhante for 'Lord Buddha TV', a Buddhist cable channel in Maharastra, on various topics, such as his impressions of Dr Ambedkar, Buddhist art and iconography, and the challenge of effectively communicating the Dhamma in modern India. The interview is a significant one, not least because when it is eventually broadcast it may potentially be seen by several million people. On another occasion Bhante fielded questions in a context with perhaps less far reaching implications, though it was nonetheless appreciated by the participants. I refer to a Q&A he conducted with the students of the Triratna Training Course, now in its penultimate week. Topics ranged from the meaning of anatta and transcendental insight, through the relationship between time and pratitya samutpada, to sex and relationships.

Bhante has met with some luminaries from the wider Buddhist world. About a dozen members of Byoma Kusuma came to visit, including Ven. Narayan Prasad Rijal, one of their senior teachers. Byoma Kusuma is a Nepal based Buddhist group, some English members of which visited Bhante last year. This time, he first met with the whole group, and spoke a little about the structure of the Seven-Fold Puja, and then he and Ven. Narayan were left to discuss together alone, while Paramartha and I served tea and chatted with the other members of the party. Their teacher, Ven. Ratnashri, has written many essays, a few of which I read to Bhante, who was impressed by the clarity about the Dharma that they evince. To celebrate Ven. Ratnashri’s birthday Byoma Kusuma are planning to produce a magazine, and they have asked Bhante’s permission to publish one of his articles in it. He has, of course, given his permission, and the article they have chosen is ‘The ‘Problem’ of Ahimsa’ from Crossing the Stream. It will be translated into Nepali by Ven. Narayan himself.

Then there was David Loy, who came to Madhyamaloka for a visit. His main objective in doing so was to meet with Bhante, though he also spent time with the students on the course, talking about Buddhism and the modern world. Bhante has been recommending David’s book, Money Sex War Karma, after having had it read to him last year.

Other than these interesting and pleasant diversions, and the usual round of visitors and daily walks, Bhante has continued his current piece of writing, ‘Reveries and Reminiscences’ - the second instalment of which appears in this edition of Shabda - with help from Nityabandhu, whose knowledge and recollection of certain details has been called upon several times. Bhante has found time to enjoy some audio books, including Marlborough, England’s Greatest General by Richard Holmes; and a CD of Philip Larkin reading his own verse. He has also had me read to him from a number of sources, including Sulak Sivaraksha’s new book The Wisdom of Sustainability; a special issue of Contemporary Buddhism, focusing on U Dhammaloka, one of the first Westerners to ordain as a Buddhist, whose life demonstrates a different kind of Western monk to the scholarly types, such as Ananda Metteya, previously thought to be the earliest Western converts to Buddhism; and some chapters from God: Being an Introduction to the Science ofMetabiology by John Middleton-Murray, which is interesting to Bhante insofar as it touches on ideas similar to his ‘Evolution, Higher and Lower’.

May 2011

There is little to say this month, for, aside from a visit to the acupuncturist, there have been few disruptions to Bhante’s usual routine of visitors and walks in the garden. Even the audio books have been largely unheeded, as most of Bhante’s attention has occupied with his current writing project, called ‘Reveries and Reminiscences’, the first instalment of which appears in this month’s Shabda, and the dictating, typing, and editing of which generally takes much of our morning session.

As well as progress with a new literary project, the last month has seen previous publications receiving attention from outside of Bhante’s typical readership. The novelist Robert Irwin published in the Guardian his list of ‘top 10 quest narratives’, which included The Thousand Petalled Lotus at number 8. (as well as Lama Anagarika Govinda’s The Way of the White Clouds). In praise of the book, Irwin says ‘since Sangharakshita has a razor-sharp mind, this book can be read with profit even by those who have no interest at all in religion’. Unfortunately, now that the book has been conflated with Learning to Walk, and is published as The Rainbow Road, interested readers may not know how to obtain copies themselves.

Fame may also be looming for What is the Dharma?, which is due to play a key role in the plot of a Hollywood Film. ‘The Fourth Noble Truth’, will star Harry Hamlin as a wayward movie star and Kristen Kerr as the meditation teacher assigned to rein in his excesses. What is the Dharma? will be a gift from teacher to student, and an inner change in Hamlin’s character will be reflected in his changing responses to the book. We hope such exposure of Bhante’s books will help them become better known, and thereby further their purpose and message.

April 2011

The search for a property to house the Sangharakshita Library and Study Centre continues, which leaves Bhante not knowing how long he will live at Madhyamaloka, or where he will move to when he goes. But go he will, and perhaps it is therefore natural that his latest literary project is a series of reveries whose starting point is some memories of Madhyamaloka that he will carry with him to his new home. He has not long started the piece, but it will be interesting to see how it develops, and it certainly gives him something to ponder as he takes his daily walk.

Amid the flow of daily visitors was the indefatigable Subhuti, who again had a number of discussions with Bhante, this time about the social implications of the Dharma. I am sure many people look forward to seeing what results. There has also been a contingent from Nottingham, led by Paraga, who were treated to tea and cake in the Madhyamaloka cafeteria.

Bhante’s audio book listening has mainly been Martin Amis’ memoir Experience, which was quite long, and which Bhante found sometimes interesting and sometimes a bit boring. Much of it was about the author’s father, the novelist and poet Kingsley Amis.

Bhante and I finished Sulak Sivaraksa’s autobiography Loyalty Demands Dissent, and Bhante wrote to Sulak expressing appreciation for the book, and noting a few parallels between the lives of the two men. I have also read to Bhante articles by David Loy and Philip Larkin, and an essay by Lama Anagarika Govinda called ‘Teilhard de Chardin in the Mirror of Eastern Thought’, which Bhante admitted to finding a little disappointing.

No health news to report, except that Bhante went to the hospital for a vision check, and will go again next month.

March 2011

As was mentioned in the last diary, Nityabandhu, along with a friend from the Polish Sangha, came to stay with Bhante for a few days in February. He visited again a few weeks later - this time for a longer stay, and with six friends. As well as spending time with Nityabandhu, Bhante met with the whole group for a couple of question and answer sessions, and at the end of one of these one of the men asked for ordination, making him the second member of the Krakow sangha to have taken this step.

In the last week of February, Bhante attended a talk and book-launch by Vishvapani at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre. Bhante is very happy that Vishvapani’s book Gautama Buddha: The Life and Teachings of the Awakened One, has been published. Its appearance is timely, it seems, given the renewed emphasis in the Movement on the importance of a familiarity with, and feeling for, the historical Buddha, and Bhante hopes that Order members and mitras will read the book.

Bhante’s correspondence with Claire Jordan, the granddaughter of his old friend the Kazini, has continued, and has remained interesting and illuminating for both parties. With the help of Clear Vision, Bhante has been able to send Claire some photographs of the Kazini.

Audio books that Bhante has enjoyed have included Charles: Victim or Villain? by Penny Junor, which Bhante described as ‘a well researched and objective account of Prince Charles’s difficult life’; and Pack My Bag: A Self Portrait by Henry Green, which he thought ‘a sensitive and thoughtful account of the first twenty five years of the author’s life’. Incidentally, Henry Green, known mainly as a novelist, was the younger brother of Gerald York, who was responsible for the publication of The Thousand Petalled Lotus.

As well as making steady progress with the Gandhavhuya, I have read to Bhante another two essays from The Future of New Religious Movements, this time about ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), who are interesting insofar as their situation as a movement in some ways reflects that of the Triratna Buddhist Community. Also, we are coming to the end of Sulak Sivaraksa’s eventful autobiography, Loyalty Demands Dissent. Sulak is a well known Buddhist peace activist, and a founding figure in the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. Bhante and Sulak have corresponded, and Sulak has read several volumes of Bhante’s memoirs.

And, of course, Bhante’s daily routine continues, including seeing people almost every day, and walking round the garden, which must be more enjoyable now that spring is on the way, and the snow drops are out.

February 2011

Bhante’s latest run of literary composition has come to an end with the completion of the sixth of his sketches about his early childhood, on the theme of ‘Illness and Accidents’. This, as well as the fifth sketch, entitled ‘Nana’, will soon be added to his website, alongside the four that are already there. Since completing them Bhante has been engaged in reflections from a very different time, and in memories not so much of his own life, but of that of an old friend from his Kalimpong days. He has been in contact, initially through Kalyanaprabha, with the granddaughter of the Kazini of Chakhung, who appears several times in Precious Teachers, including in a chapter dedicated predominantly to her. This granddaughter, whose name is Claire, has been researching her family history, and is naturally very interested to hear Bhante’s memories of her fascinating and unusual forbear. It has also been very interesting for Bhante, who has discovered a lot about the life and character of his old friend, including much that is rather unexpected, and has been all the more interesting because Claire is herself a fascinating and unusual character, being a poet and witch (a white one of course!), as well as a witty and perceptive person. The correspondence is still in progress, and will no doubt continue to entertain.

As for Bhante’s audio book consumption, he has largely been listening to plays and poetry: the former in the form of Shakespeare’s King Lear, and Othello; and the latter in the form a compilation of English verse entitled English Poetry from Elizabeth Bishop to Shelley, as well as T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Four Quartets, and a CD of Shelley’s verse, which was a gift from Rijumati, and which on the whole Bhante thought very well read. Also, he has heard Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life by Ian Hunter; and Detour: A Hollywood Tragedy by Cheryl Crane.

Bhante and I have continued to follow Sudhana on his adventures in the Gandhavhuya Sutra, and I have read to him the introduction to a collection of poems compiled by Harold Bloom, entitled Till I End My Song. We have also dipped into The Future of New Religious Movements, including essays on the factors in the success, and in the failure, of new religious movements. This is obviously of some relevance to us in the Triratna Community, and it is reassuring to see that we seem to have most of the bases covered!

Apart from this Bhante’s usual routine of visitors and walks has continued. By the time you read this Nityabandhu will have come and gone, accompanied by Wojtek, the first postulant mitra to come out of Sanghaloka, the Krakow Centre.

January 2011

A quiet month for Bhante, especially as the snow kept him housebound for a couple of weeks or so. He did not mind this, however, as the beautiful view from his window of the snow covered garden was a sufficient compensation for the loss of his daily walk. Christmas was particularly quiet, as for a few days running he received no visitors, and was also without a secretary, who was away with family. Bhante’s own celebrations extended no further than a meal with a few members of the Madhyamaloka community, and one or two guests.

Bhante has continued writing the sketches on themes from his early childhood. The first four are now available to read on his website. He has nearly finished the fifth, and there may be another one on the way.

The audio book service has provided interest and entertainment in the form of the following: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, which Bhante described as brilliantly witty, but with a serious moral concern; Journey to the Middle Kingdom by Christopher West, which he thought a fascinating account of China old and new; Asquith, by Roy Jenkins, was an austere political biography of an important British Prime Minister; and John Lennon – The Life by Philip Norman, about which Bhante commented that on the whole Lennon seemed not a very attractive character, and that Yoko comes out rather better. I have continued reading to Bhante from the Gandavyuha Sutra, as well as, for the second time, Subhuti’s new paper ‘Re-imagining the Buddha’. He has also enjoyed listening to ‘The Genius of Mozart’, a celebration of Mozart’s music on Radio 3.

Bhante has been to the hospital for an eye test, and is now not due to go again until March - a longer interval than previously, which one hopes is a good sign.

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