Uddiyana - Annual report 2019

Page 1


RAINBOWS AND BLUE ROBES MAHAMATI The day of the funeral had arrived. That morning Bhante’s body had been placed in a cardboard coffin, lovingly designed with a paper cut collage some years before by Annie Leigh. The design was based on the parable of the Rain Cloud from the White Lotus Sutra and had been agreed by Bhante. The coffin was carried to the grave by six pall-bearers in their Guhyaloka-style blue robes. From the morning, the elements put on a fine display with rainbows and light rain. It was somewhat cold but not freezing. At the time of the burial itself, there was a beautiful, late-afternoon golden-yellow light glowing with the autumnal colours of the trees, and the shadows lengthening as hundreds of us scattered flower petals over the coffin and circumambulated the grave. There was a long run up to this momentous day: the ninety-three years of Bhante’s life, of course, but also eighteen years of planning and re-planning this most significant of funerals. In November 2000, soon

after Bhante’s seventy-fifth birthday, I was approached by Subhuti to draw up a funeral plan. Subhuti said to me, ‘I am sure that we would manage without a plan if Bhante were to die tomorrow, working round the clock, but it would be better to have something prepared.’ So I drew up the first of what were to be many different plans with many different people over the years, engaged in committees and follow up work. Each person made a contribution to the eventual plan which was, of course, very different to the original one. Our final team meeting took place at Adhisthana just two weeks before Bhante died – and with no idea that Bhante would die so soon. The earliest plans involved telephone banks and telephone trees – internet communications not of course being so all-pervasive in those days – and lists of halls in London, Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere, venues that might just possibly be able to accommodate a thousand people at short notice. One of the outlandish places which somehow made itself onto a ‘B’ or possibly ‘C’ list was the London Palladium (a theatre in Soho with more than 2,000 seats). We also considered our larger urban Buddhist centres, but numbers would then have had to be limited to invitation which we were naturally very reluctant to do. Apart from anything else, how would we decide who to invite? Bhante did not have any personal preference whether it would be cremation or burial. Early on we considered, in consultation with him, possible places where he could be buried, but then agreed that it would be a cremation with a limited number of stupas for the ashes. It was only with the purchase of Adhisthana that we had a place that would be ours ‘for ever’, and Bhante agreed that he should be buried there. Soon after we moved to Adhisthana, we were very fortunate in finding a funeral director in Malvern who was very supportive of our wish to have Bhante’s body laid out for visiting for as long as possible, and without the unnatural intervention of embalming. When the time came, he helped us make it possible with careful temperature control, including the use of many hundreds of ice packs. Over a period of about a week, hundreds of people came to Adhisthana to sit with Bhante’s body in the Amitabha shrine-room. Bhante looked extraordinarily serene. Many people commented on the special atmosphere. At the funeral itself, there were around 1,200 people present at Adhisthana who heard the funeral orations, participated in a sevenfold puja, and chanted together the five mantras that Bhante had asked us to chant at the time of his death: the mantras of Shakyamuni, Manjushri, Amitabha, Padmasambhava and Green Tara. Maybe 70,000 people around the world watched it live online, in many cases participating simultaneously in the rituals. The largest numbers were in India. Sangha members gathered at many centres, including, in New Zealand and Australia, during the night. The commonest response to the funeral that I heard was that it had been ‘amazing’. It really did seem that something from another dimension was present with us that day. Watch 20 minute video: https://thebuddhistcentre.com/sangharakshita/death-and-funeral-urgyen-sangharakshita Watch the full funeral: https://thebuddhistcentre.com/sangharakshita/funeral-and-burial-urgyen-sangharakshita-1925-2018


The building previously known as the Urgyen Annexe was Bhante’s home for the last five-and-a-half years of his life. The Annexe building and the Sangharakshita Library (which is located in a different building at Adhisthana) provided not only living quarters for Bhante but a place for his entire collection of books, letters, papers, thangkas and artefacts. We have now embarked on a project to ensure the long term preservation of this collection and of the Annexe. In the last week of October building work began. The framed pictures, precious objects and plants were safely relocated, the removal of the kitchen, utility room and bathroom got underway. This once quiet and peaceful corner of Adhisthana has temporarily been replaced by the clatter of hammers and screwdrivers, exposed plumbing, dangling cables and lifted floorboards. Gradually the refurbished ‘Urgyen House’ will take shape, a fresh calm will descend and visitors will be able to enter and imbibe for themselves the atmosphere of the space. Bhante’s living-room and bedroom will be kept as they were in his lifetime. The expanded lobby of Urgyen House is to hold a display about Bhante’s life and work, including information about items that you can see when visiting his living-room, conservatory and bedroom. The former dining room is becoming the new ‘changing exhibition room’. The first exhibition will be about Bhante’s teachers with a display of articles connected with them – articles that are not normally on view. This first exhibition gives us the opportunity to offer a rich and colourful display connecting the Bhante of his final years at Urgyen House with the youthful searcher for truth. The room that was once Paramartha’s bedroom is becoming a shrine-room suitable for private ordinations. The upper floor will house the various archives, the collection of objects not currently on display, and an office. Our perspective needs to be long term, bearing in mind future generations. Stories associated with Bhante’s possessions need to be collected and recorded. The archives need to be properly managed, scanned, duplicated, arranged and protected in suitable conditions from where they can be accessed for research, enquiry and exhibition. This project has a significant role to play in the building of a strong and inspired sangha, particularly within the context of the vision of Adhisthana. It will offer unique access to the legacy of Sangharakshita, to inspire, educate, enlighten, enrich and delight. Since Bhante’s death many people have asked to visit his living quarters and many have commented on the very special atmosphere they find there. A visitor was shown around on the morning in October that the conversion work began. It will not be too long before the doors can be opened again.


‘Oh yes, I had forgotten we had those!’ Bhante has picked up an item from the box in front of him, one of two ancient-looking leather pouches, adorned with small ornamental plates of brass or bronze. He is obviously taking some delight in weighing the object in his hand, while running one finger across the engraved plates that are affixed to the front and back of each. Inside one of the items is a dark nub of flint and a musty roll of tinder. They are, it seems, old Tibetan fire-making pouches and Bhante is trying to recall where they may have come from. ‘Perhaps’, I suggest, ‘you brought them in the Kalimpong bazaar?’ – knowing that Bhante, though not having much money himself, would often buy items from some of the desperate Tibetans who were flooding into Kalimpong after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. ‘Yes, perhaps’, he replied, still absorbed in exploring the shape and texture of the curiosity he held in his hand. We are sitting in Bhante’s study at Madhyamaloka, some years before his move to Adhisthana. I have brought a selection of boxes and files up from a room in the community that has been designated as the ‘treasury’. Most of Bhante’s archival material had been stored there since its relocation from Padmaloka some fifteen years earlier. There will be many ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ and ‘Can you read it out to me?’ over the next month or so as we unpack and rediscover old sheaths of letters, hand-written manuscripts, caches of semi-precious stones, dozens of old Tibetan bronzes and, of course, many other curiosities. Box by box, file by file, Bhante patiently examines each dusty folder, reminiscing on its significance or, if it is an object, talking of its likely provenance – a little fragment of personal history attached to each one. I ask him about a letter from the Maharaj Kumar of Sikkim. It had been written in acknowledgement of a letter received from Sangharakshita in the early 1960s, but the reply from the Maharaj Kumar betrays evident indignation. Bhante reminds me of the story of the Maharaj Kumar’s wedding plans. Before the wedding took place, Bhante had found out that not only were animals to be sacrificed and alcohol supplied for the wedding feast, but there were also plans to dispose of the dogs that hung around the Gangtok bazaar prior to the celebrations. As the Maharaj Kumar was also to be the twelfth Chogyal (‘righteous ruler’), the title conferred upon Sikkim's Buddhist kings, it was of course incumbent on Bhante to register his disproval. Many more stories and anecdotes were to follow before the exploration of Bhante’s archive was completed. These memories are poignant. Now we are nearing the first anniversary of Bhante’s death, work on the ‘Annexe’ is underway and the storage, cataloguing and eventual display of some of the archival material can be planned. How best to preserve it for posterity? So many precious items: arrays of ancient Tibetan thangkas, sacred scriptures and ritual artefacts; letters from Dhardo Rimpoche, Dr Ambedkar, Lama Govinda, Edward Conze and many others; thousands of letters that make up Bhante’s own outgoing correspondence over six decades; a chest full of personal notebooks, some of which date back to the 1940s and Bhante’s freelance wandering days in India; great piles of hand-written or typed manuscripts, testament to a lifetime of literary activity; thirty-odd volumes of photograph albums, showing intimate glimpses of friendships recorded and journeys undertaken over the last fifty years; intriguing fragments of unfinished pieces such as ‘What I have Learned from my Gurus’ listing thirty-nine ‘gurus’, with a line or two recording what was learnt from each, including lessons from his mother and father. And many more fragments that chart an extraordinary personal history – a history that we ourselves share in.


I wish I had a photograph of the first time I sat with Bhante exploring his personal photo collection in his Padmaloka study back in the 1980s. Such a photograph would show a great pile of photos, negatives and transparencies, spread on the tartan wool carpet, some loose, others in bulging manila envelopes or old albums or transparent sleeves, and on one side Bhante sifting through, passing image after image to me, notepad in hand, writing down any information that might help the eventual archival process. At least, that’s my memory of the occasion – but the lack of a photographic record means the event is gradually fading away. By that time the Clear Vision Trust was well established, having produced a number of video documentaries, interviews and lectures. Now Bhante wanted to ensure that his hundreds of photographs, dating from his childhood to the present, were safely preserved and appropriately archived, so he turned to Clear Vision. Over the years that followed, I would occasionally meet with Bhante and sometimes a little heap of photos sat on his table ready to be viewed and passed over to me. Often they were his travel pictures and perhaps of little archival significance but he enjoyed taking photographs and would readily explore the artistic merits or otherwise of his attempts to capture a moment or scene. Sometimes the photographs were valuable discoveries from the past and he would recall the occasion or characters, there immortalised in black and white. Once, when I was sitting with Bhante at Madhyamaloka, talking over a number of photographs, he explained why the archive was so important for the Order and Movement. He said that we are a ‘people’ and a ‘people’ need a ‘history’. A recorded history provides an identity and cohesion. The Clear Vision image archive quickly expanded beyond Bhante’s personal collection. The Order Office passed on its entire collection of FWBO images, many of which feature Bhante. I also received Dhardo Rimpoche’s own collection of black and white negatives, and a number of photographic collections from Triratna centres and individual Order members. The archive now holds over 10,000 images, whether negatives, transparencies or prints. They are stored in boxes in the Clear Vision Trust Office on the third floor of the Manchester Buddhist Centre. Over the years, despite a lack of funding, Clear Vision has made efforts to store, protect, catalogue, database, scan, reproduce and make available the images. Those shared have proved an invaluable resource in publications, research and personal practice – but the work is far from complete. Uddiyana has now come to the rescue and partnered with Clear Vision to provide the funding needed to complete the next stage of this precious legacy project. Over the next year or two we will scan, repair, catalogue, and database each and every image. Every digitised image will be backed up by two separate hard drives and uploaded to the cloud. The original physical copies and one set of hard drives will be moved to Adhisthana. A new online Triratna Picture Library is being created where thousands of images, including as complete a collection as possible of images of Bhante, will be made available in curated albums. We also plan to create an off-line image viewing facility at Adhisthana in the Sangharakshita Library. This photographic archive and Picture Library is an incredibly rich and valuable part of Bhante’s legacy, bringing to life his own story and that of Triratna. Though the archival work itself can be experienced as tedious and seemingly endless, one is freshly inspired stumbling unexpectedly across an old colour photo from the 1950s of Bhante and Lama Govinda that is patiently waiting to be restored; or a handwritten note on a photo of Bhante at Singapore Docks that reads, ‘To mother with love’; or black-and-white pictures of our senior Order members as fresh faced young things. Seeing them one’s inspiration returns and one is reminded of Bhante’s own enthusiasm for this very special project.

THE COMPLETE WORKS MORE THAN HALFWAY VIDYADEVI Of course it’s different working on Bhante’s complete works now he’s no longer with us, but it still feels like a collaboration; he was deeply involved in the work, and my last conversations with him were mostly about it. There are specific questions I wish now I’d thought to ask, but the general approach was clear, and I know he trusted us to see it through. In recent months as I’ve worked on the volume of Bhante’s poems and short stories I’ve come to understand in an almost visceral way how someone can live on through their words. Bhante once said (in My Relation to the Order): ‘In my poetry … there is a great deal of me, perhaps more than there is in some of my prose writings, at least in certain respects. When you read my poetry you are not only very much in contact with me but in contact with me in a special kind of way.’ This is how I’ve come to feel during many hours spent absorbed in the poems – it really is as though Bhante is present through his words – and I would recommend this volume to anyone who wants to get to know more deeply the cast of his mind and especially the passions of his heart. Meeting Bhante in a very different mode, I’ve also been working on volume 14 (The Eternal Legacy and Wisdom Beyond Words), an illuminating and heartfelt exploration of the words of the Buddhist tradition and the way beyond them. And in her final and much-valued contribution to the series, Kalyanaprabha has been working on the memoir Moving Against the Stream. That, together with the two volumes I’ve been editing, will be published in April 2020, at which point we’ll be more than halfway – 15 volumes published, 12 to go. The complete works project is benefiting hugely from the labours of love of a number of people working voluntarily – many thanks to them, and praise and gratitude in particular to Shantavira and Kalyanasri for all their hours of copy-editing and proofreading. To subscribe, donate, or give a gift subscription, go to: https://www.windhorsepublications.com/sangharakshita-complete-works. If you have any thoughts or questions, please get in touch: vidyadevi@phonecoop.coop



Donations from Individuals 1 Interest

70,995 346

72,457 244




3,205 9,879 2,103 33,306 49,950 19,874

3,218 12,129 972 31,982 50,589



Office Rent, Admin and Accountancy Insurance Depreciation

6,224 3,775 0

7,308 3,192 975











EXPENDITURE DIRECT CHARITABLE EXPENDITURE Bhante Personal Support Rent/Food (Bhante & Companion) Bhante's Car & other travel Carers & Secretary's Support and Travel Other Charitable Donations 2 Funeral TOTAL CHARITY OVERHEADS



1. This figure includes £8,635 donated to the 90th Birthday fund. 2. This figure includes grants from the 90th Birthday fund: £25,179 for Complete Works Project and £1065 for translations. Also £3,000 donated to Dharmachakra for sangharakshita.org & other communications work, and a further £15,000 to Windhorse Publications for Complete Works Project. 3. There are now no more funds remaining from the 90th Birthday fund.

If you have any queries about your donation please contact Shantavira or Mahamati at:

Triratna Buddhist Community (Uddiyana) 11 Park Road Moseley, Birmingham B13 8AB United Kingdom sangharakshita.appeal@gmail.com Triratna Buddhist Community (Uddiyana) (UK charity reg 1046398) is dedicated to preserving Urgyen Sangharakshita’s legacy The Trustees are: Mahamati (Chair), Paramartha, Subhuti and Amalavajra Please find information about the charity and ways to give here: https://thebuddhistcentre.com/stories/order/sangharakshita-support/ Design Alokavira; Photographs Š Alokavira, Dhammarati, Clear Vision Trust, Paramartha & others.

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.