For Sangharakshita, semi-precious stones were like glimpses into another more colourful world, a more brilliant and beautiful world. Throughout his life he was drawn to them. You can see this thread of interest when reading his correspondence – he looked out for museums where he could see them, fascinated as he was by their colours, their aesthetic and archetypal associations (such as the jewel trees in Amitabha’s Pure Land Sukhavati).
In his sixties, Sangharakshita travelled a lot, visiting parts of Triratna around the world, and during his time in New Zealand, acquired a piece of greenstone, or pounamu.
Pounamu is the Maori word for greenstone. Traditionally greenstone was exchanged between chiefs, as a peacemaking, a gift. It’s value far transcended any aesthetic or practical qualities however, the stone itself was considered to have status and authority, to carry prestige and charisma, even in some cases a supernatural force. It was used to seal bonds of relationship, of friendship, and to express gratitude and thanks.
Decades later, when living at Adhisthana, Sangharakshita embarked upon a series of interviews with Saddhanandi, the chair of Adhisthana, sharing his life through the lens of various important objects. One of these objects was the greenstone.
Gifting pounamu is central; it wasn’t something that was bought, but something bestowed. When one owns Ponamu, the stone is embued with something of you, and you embue something of the previous owners.
About a month after his 90th birthday, Sangharakshita gave Saddhanandi this stone that he had himself bought. He wanted to give her something that he had bought, not something someone had given him. It was a symbol of his confidence, his confidence in her.
Saddhanandi reflects how honoured she was to receive it, and for years it lived in her room, on her personal shrine. She has come to recognise however that it’s true value is in handing it on. Thus the greenstone will be passed down through the generations, for those holding the office of chair of Adhisthana.