GUNABHADRI ~ THE RETURN JOURNEY
At the age of eighteen a young Dutch woman decides to travel to India before five years have passed by. When she is twenty three she does as she has said and gets on a plane to Bombay, in search of Truth. Plain slippers on her feet, a straw mat with a blanket rolled into it on her shoulder, and a bundle with her diary and some pens; this is how she sets off...
The Return -Khantiloka-
5 800105 993802
JOURNEY -KhantilokaPUBLISHERS 1
Gunabhadri (born 1957 in Amsterdam) came into contact with Buddhism at a young age and was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order (now Triratna) in 1984. This book is a personal account of the time of her training in the UK.
With thanks to Kalyanaprabha and Dariusz for their help with this book
Cover photographs: portraits of the author/details from ‘Back to the polder 1-diptych ’86 First English edition, October 2014 First Dutch edition, October 2013 Copyright © 2013/2014 Khantiloka/Gunabhadri All rights reserved ~ No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by print, microfilm or any other means without written permission by the author. polder - a piece of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea or a river and protected by dikes, esp. in the Netherlands. 1
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha
Aryatara by Devaraja (Desmond Crowe) ÂŠ
You left me to chase the truth would not let time waste your youth and I know you were right but Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll remember the night that we will be one again 1980
The beginning - travel So, I am starting to write about the time I lived in the UK. At last. It began, you could say, when I first set foot on English soil at the age of sixteen. This happened in the course of a school trip. We crossed the North Sea by boat. I ate too much French bread with Boursin and could not bear to eat it afterwards for many years to come. When I was eighteen I made up my mind to travel to India within five years. And from India I would return to the UK. But that lay ahead in a future I did not yet know … At the age of 23 I caught a plane to Bombay in search of Truth which I hoped to find there. My mother and my auntie stood by the gate waving goodbye. All the possessions I had accumulated in the previous five years I gave away or sold at the free market on Queen’s day. One box I left in the attic of my mother’s place and for the rest everything I owned was contained in the rucksack I took with me. This was lost en route and reappeared only a month later, without my extra pair of spectacles. I had never been to India before and to travel on one’s own to a strange country with a very different culture was a bit scary. But fears were there to be overcome and I did not want to be 9
constricted by everything one could be afraid of. I did not want to get stuck like the people around me and keep running around in circles that I could never escape from. By a lucky coincidence on the plane I ended up in a seat next to Lila. She was a Portuguese woman, make-up artist in the film industry and mother of a son. For seven years she had lived as a Sadhu2 in India. The first weeks of my stay she took me under her wing and so I was able to get acquainted with the customs of India that were so different to what I was used to. It was a wonderful experience, that first time I was allowed to eat a meal with my bare hands! As if I was in closer connection to the earth. After hanging around in Goa for a month I continued the journey by myself. I had already made some long walks along the beach. I had seen a big boa-constrictor sliding and slithering its way underneath some bushes. I had been asked by a man to push him off the rocks into the sea because he was not allowed to marry the woman he loved (I said â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;noâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;). I woke up on the beach once feeling really ill and the first thing I saw was a cow that nearly walked all over me. I visited a German guy who had made himself a dwelling underneath the branches and in between the roots of a very large tree. He intended to travel through India in an oxcart. I also remember the couple, heroin addicts, from whom I bought some hashish, its quality much worse than what I was used to in Amsterdam. 2
Sadhu - a homeless wanderer who is leading a spiritual life.
And then a small poster caught my eye. It was an advert for a vipassana 3 meditation course in Igatpuri4 , situated northeast of Bombay. I decided to travel there. I put the beautiful bedouin dress (white with embroidery) that I had bought on a previous trip, together with the sandals, in a plastic bag and left them behind. I now was wearing a pair of red trousers, wide and made of cotton, and a light orange top. My hair had been cut and was curly. I was wearing simple slippers on my feet. A straw mat with a blanket rolled up inside was hanging from my shoulder. I was carrying a little bundle holding my diary and a few pens to write with. This is how I set off on my journey. Before the retreat5 began I took my last packet of cigarettes, put the piece of bad hashish in it and with a big gesture I threw it away as far as possible. That I renounced. For good. This is not the place to go into the adventures I had in India in detail. That is a separate and fascinating story in itself that I described in the diary I kept. Suffice it to say that I learnt to meditate with Goenka6. I experienced a lot of discomfort and pain, but once I was through this it was wonderful 3
Vipassana - meditation in which the focus lies on gaining insight.
Igatpuri - town in Maharashtra, North-east of Bombay.
Retreat - a period of time in which one retreats from everyday life in order to reflect and contemplate. 5
S.N. Goenka - (1924- ) teacher of vipassana meditation, pupil of Sayagyi U Ba Khin (Burma, 1899-1971). 6
to sit in meditation. The peace, the calm, the warmth and energy that it engendered! A few weeks on, however, I wondered. Sitting in meditation, yes, it was wonderful, but what about the time I was not meditating? What was I supposed to do then? How could I take care so that I could continue to experience this meditative state of consciousness? Here in the East while traveling I could meditate. But how would I go about it when I was back in the Netherlands, back in everyday life? While this question was playing around in my mind I bumped into two people who came to bring me the answer. The first was a friendly Scot who told me all kinds of things about Buddhism while we were waiting for the boat that would take us back from Sri Lanka to India 7. He also told me about the FWBO8 and when - on my birthday - I travelled to Poona in a fully decorated train I took this to be a good omen. In Poona I met an English woman who told me more about this movement, showed me the small building where meditation was taught and introduced me to two Order members9 . She also After the retreat in Igatpuri I had travelled to Sri Lanka via Poona, Bangalore and Madras. I had meditated in a monastery for a few weeks and was now on my return to India. 7
FWBO - Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, a Buddhist movement founded by Urgyen Sangharakshita (UK, 1925- ) in 1967. The name of this movement is now the Triratna Buddhist Community. 8
Order member - ordained member of the Western Buddhist Order (now Triratna Buddhist Order), founded by Urgyen Sangharakshita in 1968). 9
gave me a copy of a newsletter that I studied on top of the roof of the Christa Prema Seva Ashram10 in the light of the full moon. Back in Holland it was this woman who tipped me off about what was to become my first retreat with the FWBO. The theme for this retreat happened to be ‘the Three C’s’ (co-operatives, centres, communities) which in those days were the context for practice that the FWBO had on offer. This was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for and helped me to take the next step forward. The retreat took place in May in Holland and in August I made my way to England to help out in the ‘Cherry Orchard’, a vegetarian restaurant run by a team of women who were on retreat in that period of time. I also went on a retreat for a week, at ‘Vajraloka’11. I wanted to find out what possibilities there were for a longer stay in England so that I could experience the context of the ‘Three C’s’ more fully and could begin to give my practice of Buddhism more of a shape. While we were walking in circles around the field in front of the school at Seaford, the venue where the ordination ceremony of Vajragita was taking place that day, Anoma, one of the Order members who I had met on the retreat in May, told me about the option to live and work in Croydon. The community in East London where I had stayed did not want me, because there was a lot going on 10
Christa Prema Seva Ashram - ashram in the Christian tradition.
Vajraloka - retreat centre in Wales.
for the people who lived there. The community in West London consisted of older women and they felt I was too young. But I would fit in with the community in South London. They needed people to work in the shop and it was a place where the ‘single-sex principle’ was held paramount. When I heard that I pricked up my ears. That was my cup of tea. Full of fire for the spiritual path I wanted to lead a celibate life and I had been somewhat aghast that in the short period of time that I had worked in the ‘Cherry Orchard’ I had been approached not once, but twice, with the request for a sexual relationship. And this is how it came about that I ended up in Croydon. A short exchange of letters, the decision made on both sides, and on the 4th October, after a night of travel in a delayed Magic Bus from Amsterdam to London, Ashokashri was waiting for me at Victoria Station. We travelled by train to Purley, to ‘Aryatara’ as the Buddhist Centre was known, where Ashokashri had a council meeting with a number of Order members to whom I was introduced. While they were engaged in their meeting I had plenty of time to admire the trees that stood tall against a cloudless blue sky. This was the view you looked out on from the quiet meditation room. I was impressed. Straight after the meeting we went to the High Street in Croydon. The restaurant and shop had been moved there a few months before and a year later the Buddhist Centre, now at ‘Aryatara’, would be moved there, too. We had lunch in the 14
restaurant, I was introduced to my new colleagues in the shop and after this we went to Streatham, to â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Khadiravaniâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, where I could unpack my rucksack and rest a bit after the long journey and the many new impressions.
Khadiravani – living The first thing I noticed was the woodwork at the front of the house that was painted in the same shade of green as the woodwork in the shop. This light-green colour is associated with the Bodhisattva 12 Tara, I later learnt, an archetype of which 21 variations are known. ‘Khadiravani’13 is the name of one of these forms. She lives in a grove of acacia trees surrounded by all kinds of beautiful flowers and shrubs and in the company of various animals. Her body is green in colour. She holds one of her legs in meditation posture and with the other she steps into the world, ready to be of service to anyone in need of help or assistance. With her left hand at her heart she gives protection and offers a refuge. With her right hand, which is stretched out in front of her, she gives to all whatever they need. In one of her forms, one used for meditation and contemplation, her body is covered with all kinds of wonderful jewels. She wears a skirt made of rainbows and a white silk sash over her shoulder which falls down to her waist. In both her hands she holds the stem of a blue lotus flower with three buds: the first bud is closed, the second half open 12
Bodhisattva - lit.: Enlightened Being, here a kind of archetype.
Khadiravani - lit.: ‘the grove with acacia trees’. One of the names of Tara is Khadiravani: she who lives in the acacia grove. 13
and the third is wide open. She also sits on top of a blue lotus and steps with her right foot onto a blue lotus. This symbolises that she comes into the world from another dimension. She is not of this world, yet functions in the world. She has long black hair that is partially tied up and she wears a crown on her head with five jewels of different colours. On top of her crown Amitabha 14, the Buddha 15 of endless light, red in colour, is seated in meditation posture. â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Khadiravaniâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; had been given as a name to the house and the green colour of Tara, the colour of action and doing in the daily world, had been chosen to brighten up the house. The name and the colour brought a mythical dimension into everyday life of the community and reminded us of the ideal that we were trying to live up to. The house was situated on a hill at Hill House Road and had a garden at the front and at the back. There were two large rooms downstairs of which one was used as a living room and the other as a meditation room. You could walk from the kitchen into the garden. At the end of the Summer the large pear tree that stood there would be full of ripe fruit. In the Autumn the garden was full of leaves in all shades of brown, orange, yellow and red. And in the Winter you could smell the scent of burning wood and coal. In the Summer we would often 14
Amitabha: Buddha of endless light and eternal life.
Buddha - here an archetypal Enlightened Being.
spend time outside in the garden. And from time to time we organised a gardening day. A whole group of women would come, with their children who had a lot of fun, especially when they could make a print of their little hands on the wall that was being whitewashed. This wall was adjacent to a small room at the front of the house, situated next to the front door. Upstairs there was another small room, two large rooms and a bathroom. From the window of the large room at the front of the house there was a beautiful view over roofs and trees along the sloping hill and beyond, in the direction of Streatham High Road. Walking out of the front door and turning left, you could walk in the direction of Streatham Common, also ending in Streatham High Road, or you could walk to the Rookery, a beautiful English garden and a wonderful place to spend time in. On days off I would often walk to the Rookery, most of the time down the central steps to the centre of the garden where the sundial stood, to the pond and along the flowerbeds. Behind a small gate there was the White Garden in which only white flowers grew. Further ahead there was a small lawn with picnic tables underneath trees that in springtime gave their blossoms to the earth. Behind it to the right there was a tennis court and if you walked further still you would come to some large fields until you entered yet another park. Here was a large manor where, according to the story that went round, one of its previous owners would still 18
come by. Every evening at 8.30 his horse and carriage passed by the house, a ghost horse and carriage â&#x20AC;Ś My favourite spot to sit was closer to home, in the rock garden. In the Summer a big tropical plant grew there, with leaves that were higher than a human body and shaped like a triangular heart with hairy spikes that fanned out like an enormous umbrella. At the end of Summer this plant collapsed and would lie there like a pudding on the ground, its leaves slowly discolouring from green to light brown. All moisture would seep away until the process of impermanence was completed and the remains of the plant would sink back into the earth. Often I would sit on a bench in this garden to think, ponder, write, and look at and experience the beauty around me. In the Spring azaleas would blossom and explode into all kinds of yellow, pink and orange. In and around the boulders in this garden a rare species of small blue flowers bloomed which seemed to radiate light in the twilight. At sunset especially all colours seemed to be more alive. But the whole garden was a bit fairy-like. As if a large number of good spirits were congregated here, gods and elves and fairies that were doing their magic. I was enchanted by nature. I could hear the murmuring of the small waterfall next to me while I was looking across the small bridge into the garden and over the shrubs to the trees and the sky that kept on changing. A clear blue sky against the green. A light blue sky with white clouds that, moving slowly and continuously in a play of 19
contrast and sameness, communicated with the trees in which the leaves were moved by the wind like fish in the ocean and then would very slowly, when the wind had ceased playing its game, fall apart and become leaves again. Little birds were playing in their flight through bushes, to the trees and from the sky back down, and sometimes they came and sat right in front of my feet, picking up breadcrumbs and seeds. At sunset it would become very quiet. Just before dark I would leave the park, back along the busy road to ‘Khadiravani’. In the mornings we rose early to meditate. We would sing the Tiratanavandana16 together and then we were silent until the bell was rung. In sportive times we would go jogging after the session of meditation. In two’s or three’s we would make our way to the Rookery, through the forest and beyond, and then return back home. After breakfast it was back out again. We would pass by the garden of the neighbours and the large monkey puzzle tree that stood there, with its dark green branches that looked like the arms of an ape, straight and hairy with a kink at the bottom, like hands that seemed to grasp imaginary branches in the jungle. At the corner of the street there was a big road where cars and buses came hurtling along at full speed. From here you could already see Streatham Common across the road. A vast green area with some Tiratanavandana (lit.: worship to the Three Jewels) - Pali text in which the Three Jewels are extolled. 16
bushes and trees above and then a little lower a large field that tumbled down slowly in the sunlight until the next big road where double-decker buses drove back and forth, away from London and in the direction of London. This was Streatham High Road and here was the bus stop that we walked to almost every day. I really enjoyed this way of starting the day, every time again. That expansive open area in front through which you would walk into the day and into the world. On the bus we always sat upstairs, in front, most of the time three or four of us together. Except for talking, looking, dreaming or having a little nap, I would often read something. A chapter from the Dhammapada17 as food for reflection and a source of inspiration for the rest of the day. A large part of The Three Jewels18 and parts of the Survey of Buddhism19 in preparation for study groups. Later, when I got more interested in famous poets, I would read poetry. And when I got troubled with car-sickness I changed over to lectures by Sangharakshita which I could listen to on my walkman. And sometimes I just listened to beautiful music. Later again, when I had just returned from a month-long retreat, I would continue, upstairs on 17
Dhammapada - Penguin version.
The Three Jewels, an introduction to Buddhism - Sangharakshita Windhorse Publications. 18
A Survey of Buddhism - Sangharakshita - Shambhala/Windhorse Publications. 19
the bus, with the meditation I had started that morning in the meditation room at â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Khadiravaniâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. In this way I tried to take the state of consciousness associated with the practice into my everyday life and work in the shop and the Buddhist Centre in Croydon.
Aryatara, detail (see p. 4)
Debbie, myself and Trisha in the garden of â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Khadiravaniâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;
In the Rookery in Streatham underneath the blossom
Hockneys Wholefoods — working “Box coming!” When you heard these words you had to take care that a box would not fall on top of your head if by chance you were walking up the stairs. The bags containing rice, beans, various kinds of flour, rolled oats, dates and other dried fruit, nuts and seeds had been placed on the shelves in the shop and the box in which they had been transported came tumbling down the stairs. All stock was carried down the stairs once a week and stood in the basement. Sacks of 25 kg and boxes of 12.5 kg were emptied in a trough and packed by us into smaller bags. Often two or three of us were working together: one of us would weigh the products, another would seal the bags and yet another would stick a label on top. These were written by hand with purple ink: the name of the product, the weight and price. Sometimes we would chant a mantra20 while working, at other times we would talk about all kinds of things and other times again we would work in silence. On top of the stairs at the back of the shop herbs were weighed and packed. That was the light work. And at the front by the window, which was also an area containing wonderful and artistic displays, was the cashMantra - sound symbol through which (by singing or recitation of the mantra) one can come into contact with the qualities of a Buddha or Bodhisattva. 20
register. If you were working upstairs you would divide your attention between talking to customers and unpacking boxes and bags and placing the products tidily on the shelves. If the shelves were very empty and we were short of packed-up products we would organise packing evenings or days. With a group of volunteers we would soon be on top of the workload again and the atmosphere during those events was always good. We were often short-staffed. Yet we always succeeded in getting things together and organised. The shop was situated in a building on the High Street in Croydon, right next to the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;flyoverâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; where a lot of traffic came roaring into town, not far from the shopping centre and in the midst of a large number of office buildings for which Croydon is well known. Apart from the shop the building contained a successful vegetarian restaurant, a small bookshop/reception area and a large space where meditation, Buddhism and yoga were taught and later on all kinds of cultural activities took place as well. The ground floor of the restaurant bordered on the shop. You could enter it from the High Street and also through the shop. There was a counter behind which drinks were prepared and where food was transported to and from the kitchen by means of an elevator. All the meals were carried by the waiters to the seating area on the upper floor via a winding staircase. The wooden tables and chairs on 25
the restaurant floor were painted in various shades of red, green, yellow and blue and on the walls there were prints in black-and-white from Picassoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Vollard Suite. The music that played through the speakers was always classical and beautiful. Seated at one of the tables at the front you would look out onto the High Street and at the back you would see the garden and the roof of the meditation hall. The large sliding doors of this hall were made of glass and looked out on to the garden, just like the bookshop/reception area which also had a glass dome allowing a lot of light to shine through and making this area very pleasant to abide in. Right at the top of the building, one floor above the restaurant, there were various offices and a small meeting-room. We regularly had team and management meetings in which we discussed all kinds of business matters, like how much money we made, how our prices compared to those of other shops and which new product lines we could introduce. We also talked about things like work mentality and the atmosphere in the team. How was communication going, how did we relate to each other? Those kind of things. Often we would get enormously inspired by the new perspectives and possibilities that Padmaraja spread out in front of our eyes. He had the knack of bringing everyday life and the worries of the shop - in collaboration with the restaurant, the Buddhist Centre and later also the cultural centre - into connection with the 26
potential to influence society. By our coming into contact with all kinds of people through the businesses, these people indirectly came into contact with Buddhism. And we could have an effect on these people just by being kind and friendly and by creating a beautiful, quiet and pleasant environment, an oasis in the midst of this otherwise somewhat grey town. Inspiration from Padmaraja came outside the official meetings as well. He would often walk into the shop for a little chat and sometimes youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d have a cup of tea with him in the restaurant. There was a period of time in which a number of us had tutorials21 with him. These were a real highlight for me and helped very much in the development of self-confidence and vision and especially in understanding the role that art and the imagination can play in the practice of Buddhism. With the money we earned in the shop and the restaurant we supported ourselves - in the heyday some 25 people were working in the whole complex - and we would start new projects like the cultural centre Education Through Art. We bought a large house a little outside London that became a retreat centre and another house in the south of London that could be used by a new community and later on offered Buddhist activities for people who lived in that area of town. We gave money in support of 21
Tutorial - one-to-one instruction.
Sangharakshita and his secretariat. In fact we once collectively decided to forego an increase in our personal support in order to be able to give more support to this end. We could do all of this because we ourselves only took what we needed: food, a place to live in one of the communities, enough money to be able to go on retreat for a few weeks or to visit family and friends, and a bit of pocketmoney. The idea behind this was that you gave what you could and you took what you needed. Because we lived in communities our fixed charges were low. We would often eat our evening meal in the restaurant and did not have to think too much about money. It was like a monastic life in the middle of the city. Men and women lived in separate communities and worked in separate teams. On the level of management and during the activities in the Buddhist Centre we could interact, but for the rest we lived quite separate from each other. If you wanted a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex, you would need to find someone outside this mandala22. We worked five days a week and in the evening we attended various courses in the Buddhist Centre: the meditation class for newcomers, the evening for regulars, where meditation and Dharma 23 were taught, and often a third evening on which a course
Mandala - the Centre, businesses, communities and all people involved in them. 22
Dharma - the teaching of the Buddha.
in Buddhism took place. There were also various study groups in which people participated. At the beginning of my time in Croydon my study consisted of these courses and meditation classes. This, for the time being, provided me with enough input to explore Buddhism. The other women who lived at ‘Khadiravani’ met for Mitra 24 study on Monday mornings. I would work on my own in the shop while they were studying. When I became a Mitra myself I was allowed to join a Mitra study group. Within a short period of time I was supporting a Mitra group on Tuesday evenings and participating in a Mitra study group on Wednesday mornings. This group consisted mainly of women who lived at ‘Khadiravani’ plus one or two others. It was led by Ashokashri and was the highlight of the week. In an inspiring way we explored and discussed the Dharma and forged close friendships. It was an intensive time. Working five days a week, study and three to four evenings a week of activities in the Centre. At the weekend there were also day retreats and other activities like meditation and puja25 on Sunday morning. And once a week we would have a community-night at ‘Khadiravani’ in which we reported-in, meditated together and discussed household matters. Most weeks I would take a day of rest to myself. On this day I would Mitra - lit.: ‘friend”; someone who is practising and exploring Buddhism within the context of the FWBO/Triratna. 24
Puja - devotional ritual.
sleep a little longer, do my washing, walk through the parks in Streatham, visit a museum in London and more things of that kind. On the days when I was working I would often go outside for a walk in my lunch break. My favourite place was again a park, where I would often sit on a bench for a while and sometimes had a little snooze.
Frontage of Hockneyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s restaurant and wholefood shop
With Ashokashri in an Indian restaurant in Tooting
Croydon Buddhist Centre – Buddhism and Art In 1982 Buddhist activities were moved from ‘Aryatara’ to the building in Croydon High Street where the shop and the restaurant were. At the start two upstairs rooms were used, one as a meditation room and another as a reception area where people could sit and talk before a meditation class. The intention was to move the Buddhist activities to a large space downstairs as soon as possible, so the rooms upstairs could be used as offices. There was a lot of building work, carpentry and painting going on downstairs. Very soon this new space was in full use and the number of people participating in events increased rapidly. Next to the big hall a space was transformed into a light reception area and bookshop. Adjacent to the hall and the reception area a garden was laid out in zen-style. Soon after, experimental programmes about art were started under the name Education Through Art. A tiny room that was connected to the main hall by means of a window was used as a projection room. From there slides and films were projected onto the wall behind the stage. With each film visitors were given an A4 leaflet with information that served as an introduction to the event. Apart from films there were lectures on the programme as well.
In this way the Centre became a multifunctional space where during meditation classes and Dharma courses there was a shrine with a Buddha image, candles, flowers and incense. The Buddha was not sitting but standing with one hand held next to his heart and the other in the gesture of giving. On festival days very beautiful constructions were built around the Buddha. A carpet was rolled out and meditation cushions, mats and blankets were placed to meditate on and in. For yoga classes the carpet was removed and there was this beautiful wooden floor on which yoga mats were placed. When there was a lecture on the programme or a film, the shrine, the Buddha and all surrounding things were taken down to the basement through a hatch. Chairs were placed in the hall in rows, microphones appeared if necessary and whatever else was needed for the various events that took place. On a Monday evening in July of the year 1984 an important event took place in the Croydon Buddhist and Arts Centre. It marked the opening of the first season of the Arts Centre and the theme that was chosen for this period was nonviolence. During the whole season films were shown and lectures given about this theme, in the Buddhist Centre as well as the Arts Centre. On this evening there were some 400 people present. The capacity of the hall was for around 90 people, but that evening people could follow the lecture upstairs on a large video screen in the restaurant as well. There 54
were also people sitting in the reception area, as well as in the corridor between the hall and the reception area. A large canvas was hanging on the wall behind the stage with the image of the dove of the festival of youth by Picasso painted on it. This same motif graced the front page of the programme for that season. With this symbol of the dove behind him Satyadeva introduced Sangharakshita when he was about to give his lecture on Buddhism, World Peace and Nuclear War46. A few days later this same lecture would be given at another venue in London. The atmosphere was electric and everyone was in a very good mood. I had the good fortune of finding a seat in the hall in between two women who looked like goddesses. It was very hot in the hall and they fanned themselves with their programmes and I caught some of the air. This helped me to be able to listen to the talk in a very concentrated way and to observe Sangharakshita and open myself up to him. I was deeply touched by the whole event. I felt as if transported to a higher state of consciousness, a kind of god-realm. All that was good came together. I was in good contact with the people around me, in an emotionally positive state of mind, inspired and enthusiastic. This was a very important event for all of us. We had worked hard to achieve this for a long time. But above all this was a collective event in which a Buddhism, World Peace and Nuclear War - Sangharakshita - Windhorse Publications. 46
lot of positivity from all the different people who had gathered came together. In this way a pleasant atmosphere was created that we all participated in and as a result one’s confidence and energy were enlarged. This feeling or this experience of collective positivity was one of the many good things that one could experience in ‘Croydon’ in those days and I still see it as something very special. That evening the book The Ten Pillars of Buddhism47 was launched as well. After the talk the book was on sale in the bookshop. I was standing in the long queue of people waiting until Sangharakshita would sign their copy of the book and talking to now this person, now that one. The story went around that soon two women would be ordained and there was talk of a third, but nobody knew who this third woman would be. A little later it was my turn to make contact with Sangharakshita. A few words were spoken. By accident I touched Bhante’s hand when I took the book from him and at that moment a few sparks literally lit up between our fingers. Bhante, the teacher. Me, the pupil. Bhante with his fire for the Dharma, who could transmit the fire of the Buddhist tradition to me. Just like we can light a small light in ourselves from the Buddha, who is like a lamp, Sangharakshita was and is a big lamp who can help us fan our own light into greater strength. Perhaps The Ten Pillars of Buddhism - Sangharakshita - Windhorse Publications. 47
that spark says something about the tremendous amount of spiritual energy that was present. That night I had a dream in which I met Bhante. In this dream Bhante changed, while I was with him, into Vajrapani48 , the wrathful Bodhisattva of energy. The next day I would indeed have a meeting with Bhante. I had been wondering what I could bring with me as a present for Bhante and someone had told me it was not worth bringing flowers as Bhante would not keep them anyway. I was in doubt what to do as a result but in the end I decided to follow my own feeling and give expression to my exuberant feelings in my own way. I went to a shop which I knew sold good quality flowers and chose a very large and exuberant bouquet containing all kinds of flowers. In an extremely good mood I walked down the street to the Centre. When I arrived in the reception area I was a bit nervous, so I really appreciated it that Lalitaratna started chatting with me. Padmaraja told him off for this did he not see what was happening? Although I appreciate that Padmaraja was trying to protect the ambience of this meaningful event for me, I also enjoyed talking to Lalitaratna. I had to wait a little and then I could enter the room. Bhante was sitting on a chair and I gave the flowers to him. He took them with him when he left. Previous meetings had Vajrapani - Bodhisattva of energy, often depicted in a triad with Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva of compassion) and Manjushri (Bodhisattva of wisdom). 48
run over time and as a result we only had five minutes. I asked Bhante how he was. He had just been visiting his mother or was about to meet her and we talked a little about the publication of one of his books. I also asked him what he thought about ordination and me. His reply to this was that, if I wanted to be ordained he was very happy to ordain me. The emphasis of his words lay in the indication that the responsibility for this was with me. If I wanted this, he was happy to accept me as an Order member. And not the other way round. After this it was a big job to contain the jubilation that I felt and not to waste the energy that this engendered. Back in the shop I commanded someone much too forcefully in an attempt, really, to collect my own energy in the direction of work. From the corner of my eye I saw that just at this moment Bhante was leaving the building and I felt a little ashamed.
Battle â&#x20AC;&#x201C; ordination The retreat during which the ordination would take place was due to start in a few days time. I had registered for this retreat but had later on decided to only go to half of it so someone else in the team who needed it more than I did could go there for a longer period of time. Now I had to undo this and find people who could help in the shop so I could be away five extra days. I called a few women and had a positive response without fail. That was arranged more easily than I had expected! The retreat on which I was ordained was an open retreat for women that took place every year in a school building in the town of Battle. The previous year I had also been on this retreat and that had been a kind of magical event for me, full of beauty and meaningful symbolism. Ordinations took place then also. At the front of the school next to the front door there was a bush in which large pink flowers bloomed, symbol for the opening of new life. A new tenderness and sensitivity, qualities that had always been part of me but that I had pushed away quite a lot during the last few years, came to the surface of my experience. During a walk in a cornfield I was flooded by a feeling of happiness and ecstasy.
That retreat had been the start of a year in which all kinds of things came together for me. Everything that had been set into motion until then began to bear fruit and I became increasingly happy and stronger. In the course of that retreat we listened to lectures by Sangharakshita about the White Lotus Sutra49 . The talk about the Myth of the Return Journey50 especially had made a big impression on me and has always stayed with me since. I was also making a kind of return journey, I knew. When I was returning from Sri Lanka to India by boat and the journey was delayed by the large number of Tamil51 people who had to return to their homeland, I understood then that this would be the case for me, too. It was there in Sri Lanka while waiting for the boat that I had made my first contact with the FWBO in the shape of a Mitra who had told me all kinds of things about Buddhism and the FWBO. Now I was in the UK to deepen my involvement with Buddhism and the practice of Buddhism within the context of that same FWBO. But I knew, while I was listening to that talk, that eventually, if I wanted to really deepen my practice, understanding and experience of Buddhism, I would White Lotus Sutra - Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (White Lotus Sutra of the Good Teaching). 49
Myth of The Return Journey - one of the symbolical stories that are used in the White Lotus Sutra to explain something. 50
Tamil - population of the South-Indian state Tamil-Nadu, Singapore, Malaysia, as well as some Western countries. They speak the language Tamil, a Dravidian language. 51
at some point have to return to my homeland, the Netherlands. Without that the transformation and integration would not be complete. What I was learning here in England, I would want to pass on in the country where I was born and where my roots were. I would have to be able to give words to and practise the Dharma there, in my own language, if I wanted to understand it fully, in my deepest â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;selfâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. If I wanted the Dharma to really touch and change the deepest layers of my conditioning, if I wanted full integration and to become a Buddha, then I would have to undertake a return journey to my own country, Holland. During the ordination ceremony, a year later, Bhante reminded me of this . . . It is the 6th of August in the evening. Some thirty women are deeply engaged in meditation. The meditation that they are practising is the mettabhavana, the practice of loving kindness. Usually this meditation consists of five stages, but tonight we are doing the first stage and after this we take the person in mind who is getting up and leaving the room quietly. It is Jenny who is just about to undergo her private ordination. Some time later she returns and then our attention is with Noel, who is also leaving the room and returns a little while later. What does she look like? What will her name be? Some people stay seated in meditation while others cannot resist the temptation to look at her because they are curious. And then it is my turn. I get up and make my way 61
through the row of meditating women. I open the door and close it behind me, quietly. I am alone now. I am leaving the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; behind me and, as an independent being, I am going for refuge to the Three Jewels. I am taking this step. My life, my choice, my decision. The way I have to walk is obvious. Along the stairs night lights are burning in two rows up the stairs. I experience this as a sea of light that takes me to a place and mood in my heart where fairies and elves are living. A place where everything is more refined, more beautiful, subtle and pure than in the world in which I move around from day-to-day. Slowly I walk up the stairs. A little stiffly I pause in front of the door of the room where the ceremony will take place. Bhante is sitting there to the left of the small altar that has been built for the occasion. An image of the Buddha, flowers, candles. The colour white. A lot of light and beauty. In the ceremony a few texts are recited. Bhante, the preceptor 52, says them first. He also chants a few lines. Slowly I repeat every verse and I chant every line after him. At this moment I take the three refuges and ten precepts53 upon me as an important guiding principle for the rest of my life. Bhante is chanting the Tara-mantra and I chant it after him, in call and response. Bhante gives me my new name: spiritual friend and companion, an Preceptor - person who witnesses the going for refuge and practice of ethics of an ordinand and performs the ordination ceremony. 52
Ten precepts - ethical guidelines that Order members take on and use as a frame of reference in their life. 53
auspicious sign, bringing luck to myself and to others. Just like Tara who sits with one leg in meditation posture and steps into the world with her other leg. Bhante also says that he is not only very happy that I am entering the Order, but also that there is now one more person from the Netherlands who has entered the Order. After Vajragita, and much earlier Vajrayogini, now Gunabhadri is born. This comment, that I take as a hint in the direction of Holland, keeps me awake for a large part of the night and plays through my mind continuously. By the end of the night I come to the conclusion that if Bhante would like me to be of use to the Netherlands I could open myself up to this and be of service to him in this way. After the ceremony now it is me who is walking back into the large shrine room. Not yet sure of the sound of my name, but in contact with something very tender of Tara whose mantra I have received. That is something which is very rare. Acceptance of my name happened during the public ordination the next day. The evening before we had been sitting in rows, the three of us at the front opposite the woman who had led the meditation. This morning all of us are sitting facing a large shrine that has been made very beautiful with lots of flowers and the image of three birds flying above the shrine and upwards. The three of us are seated in front. All the other people are sitting behind us. Ashokashri, who has come over especially for the occasion, is sitting right behind 63
me. Bhante enters the room and we all stand up. We salute the shrine. The public ordination ceremony starts with a sevenfold puja. Bhante says the words first and we respond. After this Bhante, the preceptor says some traditional words and we, the ordinands repeat these after him, just as in the private ceremony. The three refuges and ten precepts are now taken on publicly and every ordinand offers a flower, a candle and a stick of incense. The kesa54 is put around our necks and the names are announced. When Bhante pronounces Sarvabhadri’s name I feel relieved. There was one name that I hated and that was the name Adrie. This was the name of someone who had harassed me at school when I was a child, because I had once found a dime on the street that she thought was hers. I had said: “How can you prove that?” and had made my way to the snack bar and bought some chips. In those days a bag of chips cost 25 cents and I was given about 6 chips for my 10 cents. Adrie had chased me a few times when I was walking home after school and because of this I had once diverted from my usual route and gone to the house of a classmate because I was afraid, leaving my parents worried that I hadn’t come home. In the night I had wrestled with the part of my name that reminded me of Adrie. Now it turned out that the three of us had this part of the name in common, I Kesa - ceremonial garment that is given to the ordinand by the preceptor during the public ordination. In the WBO/Triratna it has an image of a lotus flower with the Three Jewels standing on top and flames around it. 54
did not mind as much. I really liked the sound of Guna and had it all to myself! I was also less tense during this ceremony, and felt a lot better and more at ease than the evening before. The moment Bhante gave my name to me in public and looked me full in the eye in a very friendly way I was able to accept my name. And while my name was pronounced I heard all kinds of oh’s and ah’s of the women who were sitting around me. To know that others liked my name helped me to accept the name also. The direct communication with Bhante, however, was the most important. Usually the preceptor says a few words of inspiration before the ceremony. During our ordination ceremony Bhante was talking about the various ways in which Order members are born. There are those who are ripe to be born. They leave the womb very easily. For others the birth is more difficult. And others, again, have only just left the womb. They are only just born. Which of these fitted me, I wondered, but not for very long. A nice detail is that around the time the three of us were spiritually born three babies were born from women involved with the FWBO. One of these was born on exactly the same day. The three Bhadri’s are born. Flower petals and confetti are thrown over our heads while three sadhu’s are shouted out loud. Bhante and all others leave the room. The three of us stay behind in meditation. When we leave the shrine room we are 65
congratulated and embraced from all sides. We receive a lot of presents and pictures are taken. We three together with Bhante, Ashokashri and I, and all kinds of other combinations. The weather is sunny and the atmosphere is good. Ashokashri suggested I call the shop to let them know my new name. I did this against my better judgement. Debbie was on the other end of the line and I told her my new name. Nice, but really silly to do something like this while one is still right inside such an intensive experience. After about half an hour things quietened down. I said goodbye to Ashokashri who returned home and walked to the village street in the company of Sarvabhadri and Varabhadri, where we bought presents for each other. The days after the ceremony we did a meditation in which we reflected on the six elements and I was instructed in the visualisation practice of Tara by Anoma and Vidyavati. While we were engaged in this meditation I had a clear and strong feeling that the mantra was turning around in my heart and body. This was the beginning of seven years of very intensive practice of this form of meditation. The retreat itself lasted another four days and then it was back home again, where a lot of work was waiting for me.
During the public ordination-ceremony in Battle
After the public ordination-ceremony in Battle
Solitary retreat â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Ullapool The wind has been howling for many days now, like a big giant knocking on the windows and the tiles on the roof. The wooden beams in the cottage are sighing and groaning. Raindrops are splashing with enormous force against the windows and, when I am outside standing on top of a hill, under my feet an ancient-old flat stone, against my face. Was this a sanctuary once, perhaps? The natural forces around me indignant that I dare put my feet on it? Brave the storm and all the forces that battle against a foreigner. They are only demons as long as you fight them and feel separate from them. The wind is part of me, I am part of the wind. Let it fill my lungs, then every breath will bring quickening strength. Inside the house the wind howls incessantly and violently all through the night. This is not something one can walk away from like you can with a person you find irritating. One also cannot switch off the sound by turning a knob like you can with a radio. No, I can only accept this constantly present turbulence. All day the wind has been blowing and it has been raining. But now the wind has quietened down and the rain is no longer tapping against the windows, it is quiet here. The only sounds that I can 101
hear are those of the sheep and the seagulls, the sounds of the wood in the house, of my own singing and the movements I make. Every now and then I hear the faint murmur of a car in the distance. The rain has come down and is like a fog now. Like a veil it has taken the view of the mountains away and now it is dark. A feeling of calm predominates. The gas lamp is burning and is making a faint humming sound. There is a scent of fresh fruit and I am sitting at the kitchen table. Yesterday I arrived in Inverness at 9.30 am after a night in a sleeping compartment which I shared with Mrs. Sharpe, a nice woman, 66 years old, whose daughter turned out to live in Ham Spray House 79. She assured me that I was welcome to visit the house - she would tell her daughter about me. We engaged in a long conversation, varying in subject from the Arts Centre to Buddhism and religion in general, her school and her work, her children and parents, how different generations through the years had brought up their children, and feminism. I did not sleep very well. I felt like a plant that had suddenly been uprooted from familiar ground by a strong hand, roots dangling high up in the air. But by morning I had recollected all parts of body and mind and I had arrived at the realisation that I was traveling, on my way to somewhere.
Ham Spray House - house in Wiltshire, England, where a number of people from the Bloomsbury group once lived. 79
On arrival at Inverness it turned out that this time of year there were no buses going to Ullapool in the morning. There was only a bus at three in the afternoon. So I left my luggage at the station and walked into the village, not quite knowing what to do with the extra time. I visited a bookshop, where I bought a map and a few postcards. I discovered a health food shop and decided to buy provisions for the two weeks I would be in Ullapool here. A few hours later you could see me walking the street with four large bags full of food, too heavy to carry really, on my way to the bus station. Luckily the people in the bus were friendly and helpful. The journey to Ullapool was wonderful and it was not difficult to find a taxi driver willing to take me with all my luggage to the cottage, past two small bungalows at the end of a country road, surrounded by mountains. It was a beautiful sunny day and it was nice and warm in the conservatory. I could not immediately decide which room I would use to sleep in and which as a shrine room. So I first went for a short walk and took some fern and twigs with berries on them with me for the altar that I was going to build. Nature felt very alive, as if LIFE was very powerfully present and I had a strong feeling of reverence for all that lived and grew here. I wanted to bow down in front of it, greet it and say â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;thank youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. When I was back inside the house I made a beautiful shrine underneath the window: Amitabha 103
on top in the light, flanked by Vajrasattva to the right and by Kshitigarbha80 to the left. A step down are Tara and Bhante. There are flowers above Amitabha and next to Bhante and Tara. In front of Bhante I have placed a red jewel and behind him a mala81. On the lowest step there are seven small bowls for offerings, two candles and a bowl filled with rice, red lentils and salt to burn incense in. The shrine has been covered with two cloths. One is of a soft green colour with golden thread woven into it and the other is a dark green scarf that is draped and falling down from Amitabha to Tara to Bhante to the incense bowl, which is filled with offerings. There are many sheep here, of which some female sheep look very beautiful, with their white skin and beautiful faces. Usually they are grazing everywhere and nowhere, so I wondered what was going on when suddenly they all came walking the same way. Ah, I see, a car is driving up the road. A whistle, barking dogs, and all the sheep are collected together and are running over the ďŹ eld, up the hill and down again.
One does exactly the same in meditation with oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s
thoughts and stored impressions. These roam like sheep
Kshitigarbha - Bodhisattva who descends into hell realms to help beings there. 80
Mala - see footnote p. 36.
everywhere and nowhere in the landscape of the mind and are brought together in the stage of concentration.
One-pointe d concentr ati on. I did not succeed in
maintaining this for very long, but I caught a glimpse of Freedom. I was on the threshold of it. Could not open the door very well unfortunately. I went for a long walk over the hills, with the view of mountains in the distance and of the sea, a fjord82 and some little islands. This ancient old landscape reminded me of the bottom of the Red Sea. A sense of old days when these were not yet hills. A desolate landscape, perhaps once inhabited by wandering tribes, the dinosaur and other ancient creatures roaming about. The earth I walked on was very spongy, a kind of red moss, the kind which you often see under water in the sea. I walked alongside some small lakes and lots of little pools, puddles, streams and a little river. I imagined that I was walking on this huge nature-giantâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s head. Or that some of the soft bumps I was walking on were in fact ancient old animals. But no, they did not stir. On the way back I passed by a small, naturally formed shrine. It was a little cave with water dripping and tender green fern growing in it, very fresh and young. There was also moss growing over the stones. I made an offering of a small red flower, as an expression of thanks for the safe journey I Fjord - inlet of the sea. So called by me because of a previous journey to Norway. 82
had just undergone. This is how it must have been for mountain dwellers and primitive people, I reflected. The reason they built shrines in certain places. To give themselves courage and confidence before or after a journey in a bleak and desolate landscape where the wind could be friend or foe, playful or fierce, you never knew. Because they felt a natural gratitude for a place of beauty and safety. A place where the wind no longer howls and where peace pervades the atmosphere - as if the gods are present. In meditation these images of the landscape come up in my mind. The shifting layers of the earth, the pools of water, deep wells of and into the unconscious. I am these pools, this landscape, and these ancient old animals of nature. The wild boar, the swine, the ape, the dinosaur. All these primeval forces, it is part of me and my consciousness. All shapes of nature correspond with patterns in my own mind. Deep down I am born out of them and I am one with them. Moss, earth, pools and animals. The poets write about this. All attention in meditation on one point. Meditation, a gateway into the unknown. Doorstep into another world. There are different values in that world. I was on the doorstep. But I could not sustain that level of concentration. The last night of the retreat I could not sleep very well. I had so much energy and felt a lot of love for everyone. This seemed to come from outside of me and I gave myself over to it. It was as if I was 106
making love with an angel, who I did not see or hear. A being that could love much more than I could and was much more subtle and much larger than I was. I could describe this as a process of increasing awareness. Or that I allowed myself to experience more of myself. But the poetic description of the angel comes much nearer to the truth of the experience. A â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;guardian angelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, or a guide, a kind of ally who shows the way to higher worlds. Keats83 describes a similar process in Endymion84 and I had to think of Greek myths that tell the stories of gods who take possession of young women, and of the devotees of Bacchus85 who give themselves over to their god of passion and love. I also had to think of a woman I knew who had become psychotic and this was the reason I did not surrender myself to this force again. I needed some time to reflect on the implications of this extraordinary experience. pictures >
Keats - English poet.
Endymion - the complete works of Keats - Penguin.
Bacchus - God of wine, surrender, ecstasy and passion (Dionysus).
Vajrasattva by the author
(...) and Dhardo Rimpoche against Indian customs. At the time I did not notice. Together with Sanghadevi, who arrived in India a few days later, I travelled to Sarnath104 and Bodhgaya 105. We also visited Nalanda 106 and travelled together to Kalimpong to visit Dhardo Rimpoche, with a two-day visa in our pockets107. The difference in temperature between the provinces we came from and the Northeast, where Kalimpong was situated, was big. It was much colder in the North and as a result, when Sanghadevi and I arrived in Kalimpong, I had a terrible cold. We found a hotel where we deposited our luggage and set off almost immediately to the school which Dhardo Rimpoche had founded and where he lived. From that time on we spent the largest part of our time in the company of Dhardo Rimpoche. During the months preceding my journey to India there had already been a brief exchange of letters between Dhardo Rimpoche and myself. I had Sarnath - the place where the Buddha taught the Dharma for the first time to the five men with whom he had practised asceticism. They became his first pupils. 104
Bodhgaya - the place where the Buddha became Enlightened underneath the Bodhi tree. 105
Nalanda - place where a large monastery used to be situated, where Buddhists from various schools studied and practised the Dharma. 106
A visa for two days was the maximum one could get in those days. 107
written to him and requested to visit him and I had also asked something about the Tara and Vajrasattva meditation practice. In the same period of time that I received a reply from him a Padmasambhava festival was celebrated at the London Buddhist Centre.108 Part of this festival consisted of a ritual dance, performed by people dressed in costumes and with masks of the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava. This whole occasion had been magical for me and the atmosphere during the ritual had been electrically charged. That same week a reply was on its way. I felt so well, inspired and full of love. This was not usual and it felt like it came not only from me. It was as if I felt the letter coming. Dhardo Rimpoche told me in the letter that Sanghadevi and I were welcome and encouraged me to do the Vajrasattvapractice as well as to continue to do the Tarapractice. Dhardo Rimpoche was a very small man physically. It was only when our meeting drew to a close and Dhardo Rimpoche turned around that I noticed how stooped his back was and how old and frail he looked. My experience of him had not been like this at all. He seemed young and his spirit was one of unfailing kindliness. His actions, his every gesture exuded mindfulness pervaded by a strong sense of metta and compassion. He shone light. Golden light. He was light. This is what I saw. 108
London Buddhist Centre - in Bethnal Green.
I had decided in advance to do three prostrations and I did this with fervour when we entered his room for the first time. He seemed concerned that I had not hurt myself by throwing myself on the ground so hard and immediately I understood he did not hold to ceremony. We talked with him, we drank tea and ate with him. We were present when a young couple came by with the request to find the best date for their marriage. A visit to a special temple was arranged for us and of course we were shown round the school. I asked him to bless a small image of Tara which I had bought in Darjeeling and he agreed to do this in the context of a Tsongkhapa109 puja he would be performing that very night (though he gave us much of his time, it was obvious he was very busy, making long hours until late in the night). When I handed him the Tara image he looked at her, examined her, paying attention to every detail and looking at her with an expression of kindliness, full of metta. The strange thing is that, while he was so occupied, I started to feel like Tara. I felt completely seen and accepted on a very deep level. That is the only way I can describe it. And I was very happy.
Tsongkhapa - (1357-1419) - important teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and founder of the Gelugpa school. 109
Sanghadevi and I asked many questions. We asked, Jampel Khalden110 translated, Dhardo Rimpoche answered and Jampel Khalden translated again. When I asked a question about Tara a lot of information passed back and forth at great speed between us. A very intense discussion took place on what mattered most to me. Dhardo Rimpoche explained an extended version of the Tara-practice 111 - and while he was explaining it was as if he was in the presence of what he was describing. He saw the Buddha and Bodhisattva figures he was talking about in front of him. The effect Dhardo Rimpoche's reply to my questions had on me was that it turned around my whole way of seeing. It was a recognition: "Oh, it is like that!" And I felt incredibly affirmed. It was like 'I' was worthy of being given to. This connects with a very strong impression I had of Dhardo Rimpoche: that he treated everything, from the highest to the lowest, as if it was divine. Everything was worthy of his attention, his metta, his generosity. Although in spiritual stature very big, he was so humble, so ordinary, but to such a degree that it was extraordinary.
Jampel Khalden - secretary and assistant to Dhardo Rimpoche. Now director of the school and grandfather of the tulku who has been recognised as the reincarnation of Dhardo Rimpoche. 110
Tara-practice - see Meeting Dhardo Rimpoche, for a complete description. 111
He had so much to say and there was so much more he wanted to pass on, but the time we had was short. Though he assured Sanghadevi and me that we would meet again, it was difficult to say goodbye. Transport was arranged for us and, accompanied by the two sons of Jampel Khalden we travelled back to Siliguri by jeep. From there Sanghadevi and I travelled together a little more. We visited Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Nalanda and then I made my way on my own in the direction of Nepal where I would stay for another two weeks. In my hotel room in Kathmandu I had two important experiences. The first was a dream in which I met Dhardo Rimpoche again. The second was a kind of vision of death, while I was lying sick in bed after a Nepalese dish with spinach that had gone off. When I had recuperated I visited various places in and around Kathmandu. Two weeks later I had to return to India because I had agreed to participate in a retreat in the vicinity of Wardha. But I did not really want to leave. It was as if something still needed to happen and I connected this with Dhardo Rimpoche. In the plane back to India I had an intense feeling that I was going against something that was really important. Through the speakers the song of Chicago112 with the words: “If you leave me now, you take away the biggest part of me . . . please don’t go . . .” was playing. It turned out, when we
Chicago - American rock group. ‘If you leave me now’ was one of their hits. 112
were flying above Varanasi, that as a result of the bad weather the plane was unable to land. We returned to Kathmandu. Once again the majestic and beautiful panorama of the Himalayan Mountains. A night in a luxury hotel and the next day I left Nepal a second time. Dhardo Rimpoche had told us that he would go on a pilgrimage in Nepal and I had had the quiet hope that coincidence would bring us together again. But apart from in a dream in which he looked at me with his third eye open I never saw Dhardo Rimpoche again. While I was visiting the stupas in Boudnath and Swayambunath113 in Nepal and was on a short solitary retreat in a monastery in Dulikthel114 , Dhardo Rimpoche was walking around in Nepal. To every beggar who asked he gave a coin. He was on his last pilgrimage. Six weeks later - I was back in England on a solitary retreat - I was walking outside around a field and reciting mantras when I began to hear and feel I was in the presence of lots of Tibetan monks doing the same. That same evening I received a message from a friend saying that Dhardo Rimpoche had died. Did I see snowdrops falling or was it blossom from the trees? That is what usually happens according to Tibetan tradition when a great monk Boudnath and Swayambunath - two important stupas in Kathmandu. 113
Dulikthel - this monastery marks the place where according to the Jataka Tales the Buddha in a previous existence gave his body to a hungry tigress who was looking for food for her cubs. 114
dies. When I reflected that I would not meet Dhardo Rimpoche anymore, I looked at the Tara image that was on my shrine, which was vibrating with light and his presence. I realised that I could stay in touch with Dhardo Rimpoche by practising and passing on what he had taught.
Green Tara rupa
Dhardo Rimpoche in his room
Visiting Dhardo Rimpoche together with Sanghadevi