In December of last year I made two visits, my first, to Adhisthana. What follows is an account of my experience and its context. The delightful, intelligent, and smart Saddhanandi, whom I met on the first visit, and who also, I’ve subsequently learned, has a wonderfully mischievous sense of humour, suggested this could be of value. She thought that it might be interesting to hear from someone who’s been ordained for a while (44 years this July!) but hasn’t had much involvement in the structures of Triratna for quite a while. An outsiders’ view by a onetime insider!
To start with then, a bit about me. English by birth, I was ordained in 1978 by Sangharakshita at Padmaloka, along with Dharmananda. For the past 26 years I’ve been living in the USA. At present I’m living in Tucson, Arizona, and am a Fellow of the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of Arizona. So, I’m a scholar, and under the guise of the name Anthony Tribe, much of my research and publications focus on the history of Tantric Buddhism as well as on Manjushri.
My early years in the Order were rather different. From its outset I was deeply involved with the West London Centre and Sangha, living in men’s communities, co-founding a co-op business (Friends Gardening), and acting as mitra convener. In 1985, with a view to deepen my grasp of the history of Buddhism and learn one of its classical languages (Sanskrit, and subsequently, Tibetan), I did a BA at Bristol followed by a doctorate at Oxford. In 1995 I was invited to the US, to the University of Montana in Missoula, for a semester’s teaching and to lead study on the international order study retreat (Nalanda West) arranged in Montana by Saramati. I’d thought I’d be in the USA for seven months. I’m still there! And, in the interim and along with a rich and varied life, have been married with two step-children (for eighteen years) and divorced.
For me Covid lockdown was a time of reconnection with old friends in the Order as well as one of making new ones. This was largely the result of participating in zoom retreats led by my old and dear friend Kamalashila. One of these friends is Samata, and in December last year, when I was in the UK and visiting her in mid Wales, we drove down to Adhisthana.
For me a big incentive for the trip, aside from seeing Adhishtana for the first time, was the Tibetan manuscript of the Manjughosha-stuti-sadhana practiced in Triratna, a picture of which I’d recently seen on the online version of the Urgyen House exhibition on Sangharakshita’s teachers. This manuscript contains three other sadhanas, and had been commissioned as a gift for Sangharakshita by the Maharani of Sikkim on the occasion of his initiation into these practices by the famous Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro in 1957. I had been particularly excited on seeing the manuscript since I’d been re-translating parts of the Manjughosha-stuti-sadhana as a contribution to one of Kamalashila’s retreats. Frustratingly, however, I hadn’t been able to obtain a full copy of the text.
It is a sunny day, early in December, when Samata and I drive to Adhishtana. On arriving I’m given a wonderfully warm welcome from Saddhanandi and others, including Jayadhi (at that time still Lizzie), and Caroline in the women’s community. I also meet Shubhavyuha, who, it serendipitously transpires, is the partner of my fellow ordinand Dharmananda who now lives In Australia. After coffee and Bara-brith cake in their delightful lounge, Samata shows me round. Afterwards, we are treated to lunch back at the women’s community before leaving.
On that first visit, I think most of all I was struck by how much and how rapidly I felt at ease and at home at Adhisthana. The relaxed and welcoming atmosphere was palpable. As for the buildings, I especially loved the main shrine room and what Yashodeva (who it was delightful to bump into too) has created there. The way the existing pillars had been incorporated into the design reminded me of the rock-cut Buddhist cave temples of the Western Ghats in India. I also saw the library and while I didn’t have a chance to explore it fully, I really liked its organization around the high, airy, and light-filled atrium with the beautiful Manjushri rupa. I look forward to seeing how the library evolves as a valuable resource for Triratna.
With the sun out, it was also a good day to explore the grounds. I’m struck by the long and expansive views—great for deepening the link between space and shunyata; at the same time, I feel a sense of intimacy and balance, provided by the gardens closer to the buildings. Sadhu Sanghadeva!
During that first visit I also had a first look at Urgyen House and the exhibition. While there Amarapushpa, who was at Adhishtana to chair a meeting, popped in to say hello. I’d first met her (virtually) on Kamalashila’s online 2020 Prajnaparamita retreat that I’d co-led with him and Karunachitta.
I’d initially hoped to photograph the Tibetan sadhana manuscript in the Urgyen House exhibition, but the task was more complex than I’d envisaged. A second trip would be necessary, and a couple of weeks later Samata and I are back. Mahamati and Paramartha, who have given the project the go-ahead, arrive to help. We disassemble the glass-topped display cabinet, remove the sadhana manuscript, and carefully photograph its pages. It was lovely to see both Paramartha and Mahamati after so many years. Paramartha, I had last seen in Missoula in 1996 when he’d accompanied Sangharakshita on a visit to the US. Mahamati, I’d probably last laid eyes on in 1995 when we were in the same chapter in Oxford. I’m very grateful for their support and aid with photographing the manuscript. It hadn’t been photographed before. Paramartha now has copies which will be part of the Urgyen House archives.
On this occasion I also bumped into Sanghadeva, whom I had last seen at Il Convento (Tuscany, Italy) on his ordination retreat in 1983, and Khemabhandhu who I was meeting for the first time. I’ve mentioned a good few names of people (and by no means all!) I met at Adhishtana, since for for me it was an integral and important part of my experience there; part of a process of reconnecting, renewing, enriching, broadening and deepening my experience and understanding of what I’ve been involved in for not far off half a century.
And finally the second of these two rich, nourishing and stimulating visits concluded by being taken out to lunch by Paramartha at the great local cafe in Colwall along with Mahamati and Samata.