The Dharma Life Course has been one of the highlights of my life. I’m reaching the end of my 3-month stay at Adhisthana and am writing this blog as a reflection on my time here.
In some respects, it was a difficult decision to decide to come on the course. I had been working in the civil service with the offer of a promotion, enough responsibilities, and a decent work-life balance by most people’s standards. I could work during the day and attend dharma classes at the London Buddhist Centre in the evening. For a while, I thought this lifestyle was satisfying, but as I became more and more inspired by the 3 jewels I found it painful not being able to give more time and energy to Buddhism. I explored possibilities to take a break from my job, but this didn’t work out, so I quit. I said the decision was difficult, but in a sense, it was also easy. I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t apply to the Dharma Life Course.
I feel incredibly grateful for all that I have been given over the past 3 months. Myself and the 5 other men on the course have lived together in our own community within the wider Adhisthana community. Our community space included our bedrooms, bathrooms, a comfy lounge, and a kitchen. Breakfast we sorted ourselves, but delicious lunches and dinners were cooked for us every day. 3 afternoons per week we would help out around the site. This included housekeeping, gardening, cooking, clearing a pond, bed building, and more. It was a great way to get to know some of the Adhisthana community. I have huge admiration for their work ethic and kindness. In 3 months of work, I cannot remember a single instance of harsh speech. On the contrary, the atmosphere was warm, encouraging, and appreciative. I found the work enjoyable and rewarding. It was good to feel that we were helping Adhisthana and playing a role in ensuring other people could go on retreat. The work also provided a good chance for physical exertion after periods of study.
Each week we had a different order member lead study or a retreat with us. All of whom have been brilliant and different in their approach to study. I have often felt exhilarated by how they communicate the Dharma and inspired by the way they have led their lives. Some of the study leaders knew Sangharakshita very well. Hearing their stories has helped me to build a connection with Bhante. I have also built a connection with the Adhisthana community by sharing meals together, going on walks around the beautiful Herefordshire countryside, and fun activities such as volleyball or dancing.
I have gained a strong sense of how important Adhisthana is for Triratna. There are usually retreats beginning each week, varying in size and theme. Noticing the different atmosphere from week to week has been fascinating. We were lucky enough to be present for the public ordination of 11 women. Hearing their private preceptors introduce their new names and to witness each individual begin their life in the Order was incredible. Shortly after, there was an Order retreat on Padmasambhava. We were invited to join the evening pujas, which was an unforgettable experience.
In most circumstances, it takes time to build friendships. Perhaps you only see each other once a week for Mitra study, or a night out. The Dharma Life Course is different. You do everything together. You study together, eat together, meditate together and share all the beauties and challenges of human communication. There has been laughter, tears, disagreements, hugs, incidents, accidents, pancakes, existential questions. You name it. It’s not always been easy, but it has been worth it. I’ve learned so much about how to build and maintain a community. I’ve learned how to disagree, and how to support a friend who is having a difficult time. I’m by no means perfect, but nor is anyone. It’s a joy to see each other grow and to have friends who really want the best for you. They see your potential and they help you grow into it.
There’s something quite magical about Sangha that enables friendships to transcend differences. The 6 individuals in my community were very different and even at the end of our time together I was discovering new things. At times, I can think that I know a person and my questions may dry up. The obvious avenues of conversation have been trodden many times. It is easy to assume we know everything and to fix a person in a certain way. I found that in the community I sometimes had to put myself out of my comfort zone, let go of my plans or a routine if I really wanted to make friends. I hope I can continue to grow in this area and hold my plans and habits lightly as I leave this community for another community.
Whilst I have spent a lot of time with my friends on the course, I also had plenty of opportunities for solitude. I have really enjoyed walking around the Adhisthana grounds, particularly after the morning mediation. The sounds of nature such as the hooting owl or the shimmering oak leaves have touched me deeply. So to the glorious colours at dawn and dusk. I relished the pockets of space between activities to wander around the grounds, to sit in Urgyen House or enjoy the view of the Malvern Hills from a bench. Adhisthana is a wonderful place to sit still and be receptive to peace and beauty.
I’d like to conclude by thanking everyone at Adhisthana for making the past 3 months so special. It’s probably too early to say just how deeply I have been affected. I have had many precious interactions with you which have opened my heart. I hope I can return to see you all in the future and I hope that other people can have the same opportunity I have had to come on a Dharma Life Course.
With metta, Jeremy