Vajra Bell newsletter - Fall 2018

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FALL 2018

spreading the dharma keeping sangha connected

Generosity: At the Heart of a Spiritual Life Practicing Generosity Until It’s as Natural as Breathing by Ratnaghosha page 07 Dana: The First Step of the Spiritual Life by Acarasiddhi page 10 Is Money a Placeholder for Love in our Lives? by Amalavajra page 12 Wild Awake: Alone, Offline & Aware in Nature by Vajragupta page 24

also: Sangharakshita Remembered page 15 Sangha Connections page 22 I Have a Thinking Problem page 04

vajrabell VAJRA BELL KULA EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Saddhavasini Schaefer ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Betsy Cadbury ASSOCIATE EDITOR: David Watt ARTS EDITOR: Deb Howard WRITER: Shraddhavani Pruitt SANGHA NOTES EDITOR: Lisa Lassner PROOFREADER: Maitrivati DESIGNER: Callista Johnson

SANGHA NOTES CONTRIBUTORS Aryaloka Buddhist Retreat Center 14 Heartwood Circle Newmarket, NH 03857 603-659-5456 · Find us on Facebook: ...or on the Aryaloka Facebook Group: Connect at The Buddhist Centre Online:

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Gary Baker, New York Sangha Paramita Banerjee, Vancouver Buddhist Centre Pete Ingraham, Aryaloka Buddhist Center Sabrina Metivier, Nagaloka Buddhist Center Dharmasuri, Nagaloka Buddhist Center Mary Salome, San Francisco Buddhist Center Samatara, Rocky Mountain Buddhist Center Satyada, Khante Outreach Shraddhavani Pruitt, Portsmouth Buddhist Center

BOARD OF DIRECTORS Satyada (Chairperson) Dharmasukta (Treasurer) Alisha Roberts (Treasurer) Amala (Council Representative) Kamalasiri Singhatara

SPIRITUAL VITALITY COUNCIL Amala (Chair) Satyada (Board Representative) Lilasiddhi Khemavassika Surakshita

© 2018 Aryaloka Buddhist Center

table of contents fall 2018

From the Editor 04 I Have a Thinking Problem by Saddhavasini 06 Dana (Generosity) Practicing Generosity 07 Until It’s as Natural as Breathing by Ratnaghosha 06

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Dana: The First Step of the Spiritual Life by Acarasiddhi Is Money a Placeholder for Love in our Lives? by Amalavajra

14 Arts at Aryaloka 15 Remembering Sangharakshita



Book Reviews The Buddha on Wall Street and Yasodhara: A Novel about the Buddha’s Wife


Sangha Notes by Sangha Notes Contributors


Sangha Profile Boston Sangha: Supporting Spiritual Friendship by Lisa Lassner

Bodhana: A Rare, Dedicated 20 Meditation Teacher, Guide, Support and Resource Amritamati: ‘I Wanted to be a 22 Daughter of the Buddha’ by Shraddhavani 22 15

Wild Awake: Alone, Offline & 24 Aware in Nature by Vajragupta COVER IMAGE: Adrien Gonin

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from the editor:

I Have a Thinking Problem Photo: Saddhavasini

by Saddhavasini Editor-in-Chief, Vajra Bell More than 40 years ago, I entered a 12-step program for a drinking problem. The fellowship and steps changed my life. But after years of sobriety, I came to realize that thinking, not drinking, continued to be a problem. A self-test to determine if one is an alcoholic also could be applied to diagnosing my thinking malady. Do you think the morning after? Do you try to avoid family or close friends while you are thinking? Do you think heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure or have had a quarrel with someone? Do you think alone? Do you sometimes regret things you did or said while thinking too much? And my favorite: After periods of thinking do you sometimes see or hear things that are not there? The answer to all those questions for me is yes! To address my thinking problem, I went in search of deeper page 4

spiritual guidance. When I walked into the Aryaloka Buddhist Center nearly a decade ago, I landed on a path to free myself from the suffering of my mind. For the past seven years, I have been in the ordination training process to become a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order. This past spring, I spent three months at Akashavana, a women’s retreat center in the mountainous regions of Spain, to be ordained with 20 other women. During that time, we were free of Facebook postings, the daily deluge of emails and news of political machinations in our country. We spent weeks in silence. No frivolous chatter about the weather, about what was on the news that day or what we were thinking during meditation that morning. For weeks, we did not speak, as we practiced and worked alongside each other. We did our laundry, chopped vegetables, cleaned the toilets or hauled water in silence. We danced around each other, sometimes in close quarters, to cut up fruit for our

oatmeal, make tea or coffee, or brush our teeth in the bathroom. And in those dances, we might exchange a smile, greet each other with a knowing look, offer a kind touch, or simply be lost in our own thinking. I had thought that retreating to this beautiful, open landscape would clear my head, and that I would meditate only in bliss. Instead, the vast vistas, rocky cliffs, immense blue sky – even the cloudy, rainy days – offered plenty of space and time to experience, sit with and investigate my thinking problem. I would sit in the shrine room, looking out on all the women sitting in stillness and quiet with only the sound of birds and the wind outside. Amidst all this silence and expansive open space, free from mundane distractions, I became acutely aware of how my mind still wanted to evaluate, judge what was going on around me, layer my interpretations on a look someone might have given me or not given me. What might that glance have meant that morning?

How could she cut in front of me that way? These thoughts often caused me suffering. Some days, when convinced I was justified in my judgment about being wronged, I investigated the views beneath the reaction I was having. What was I trying to protect? Was my sense of self threatened? Maybe it was not about the other person at all, but just some fabrication or misinterpretation I conjured. How could I really know anyway what the other person was thinking, feeling, processing? I had no evidence. As one of our teachers pointed out, the strength of our conviction or the power of our emotions do not correlate with the truth. Sometimes, I could just sit with and watch a crazy thought that randomly stumbled into my brain. If I did not engage with it, often it would simple dissolve into the blue sky and mountains. Other times thoughts would move in and stick around for a while. Vedana (feeling) was strong. Stories were even stronger. It could be a view or just part of a deep-seated nature of who I am as a human being. Then, I was encouraged to give myself a strong dose of self metta to “love it out of existence.” After weeks of silence, we slowly started talking about our experiences during that time. I learned that many of my Dharma sisters suffered, too,

with the inner workings of their minds. “How much do you think this happens?” I asked one of my fellow ordinands. “All the time,” one assured me. “It probably goes on all the time, and we are just too distracted in our everyday lives to notice.” One evening in the midst of a rousing round of papancha (endless mental proliferation), I became keenly aware of how this collection of stories, judgments and doubts were just fabrications of my mind. But my mind worked diligently to convince me of their truth to cause me suffering. As I walked back along the path from the shrine room that night, I felt Padmasambhava step into my path and ask me, “How long are you interested in hanging on to this view and suffering with it?” Step one in any 12-step program is admitting we are powerless and that we cannot manage our addiction. I was powerless over my thinking, and I was not going to think my way out of this suffering. The Dharma has taught me that my crazy thoughts have no basis in reality, and that I have the power to transform them. I have a choice: suffer with them, or let them go. I walked on and let my thoughts dip behind the mountains along with the setting sun.

Photo: Saddhavasini

Photo: Saddhavasini

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Dana Generosity has been at the heart of my work in fundraising with large and small organizations for the past couple of decades. In the hundreds of conversations I have had with donors, I have investigated and reflected upon what motivates people to give or to hold tightly to what they have.

Painting: Deb Howard

How do people find joy and motivation to give or to ask others for support? How do views of money and giving hinder or inspire people to be generous? How do people’s stories change across their experiences and across cultures? Generosity, too, is at the heart of spiritual practice. In this issue, the Vajra Bell starts its exploration of dana (generosity) with perspectives from three order members – Amalavajra, Ratnaghosha and Acarasiddhi. Look for more on this theme in future issues. —Editor, Vajra Bell

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Practicing Generosity

Until It’s as Natural as Breathing by Ratnaghosha Generosity is characteristic of Buddhists. The image of the monk with an alms bowl has symbolized the generosity of the Buddha’s disciples from the beginning. Traditionally, though, monks do not request alms; they are silent when they are collecting alms. In the Triratna Buddhist Community, and I suspect in many Western Buddhist groups, the norm is to regularly ask for donations and to fundraise for particular projects. But generosity should not be in response to requests. Ideally, generosity is a simple and continuous application of our ethical principles and a flow of time, energy and money in the direction of our heartfelt values. Giving is a key Buddhist practice and one of the delights of the spiritual community. All of us give, and we probably do give continuously, but there is a very

broad spectrum of generosity with no distinguishable end points. It is always possible to give more. There is no limit to generosity, but there are limits to our ability to be generous. Practicing generosity is about gradually expanding beyond those limits. In his A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens created Mr. Scrooge, the archetypal miser, the fundraisers’ nightmare. We can put Scrooge at one end of the spectrum. He is fictional, but unfortunately he may have his counterparts in the real world. At the other end of the spectrum, there are people like the Tibetan Lama mentioned by Sangharakshita in this story: A friend of mine who was a lay Nyingmapa Buddhist, took me into Benares to see a Tibetan Lama – not an incarnate Lama, an ordinary monk – who was living there to learn Sanskrit. His name was Tendzing Gyaltsho. He had settled in Benares to study Sanskrit. We found him at a place almost like a typical Hindu ashram. He had a little

room at the top, but it was quite bare. He was sitting on the floor with a tin trunk in front of him which served as his desk and table, with just a little text on it which he was studying. He was very pleased to see me and we talked for about an hour. As we rose to depart, he said, “I really must give you something.” He looked around the room, but there was absolutely nothing. I could see that he was almost desperate. He had nothing but his mala, so he broke his mala and gave me one bead and said, “Please take this. I must have said many millions of mantras on it. It’s all I have to give you.” — “Bodhisattva Ideal, Altruism and Individualism in the Spiritual Life,” published in Triratna’s Mitrata in the 1980s The ideal of the Bodhisattva is one who seeks to awaken for the sake of self and others. Indeed, this has been the goal of Buddhism from the beginning as suggested by the Buddha: - Practicing continued on page 8

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- Practicing continued from page 7 Of two people who practice the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, having a sense of Dhamma, having a sense of meaning — one who practices for both his own benefit and that of others, and one who practices for his own benefit but not that of others — the one who practices for his own benefit but not that of others is to be criticized for that reason, the one who practices for both his own benefit and that of others is, for that reason, to be praised. — Anguttara Nikaya 7.68

including the spontaneous flow of open-handed generosity. Restlessness and anxiety The first hindrance is restlessness and anxiety. Together they constitute a state of mind where one always worries about security and is in constant need of stimulation and pleasure to keep worry at bay. Life is uncertain and cannot be controlled, but we desperately want to control life and create certainty. Restlessness is characterized by energy. Its positive counterpart is virya,

Miserly as Scrooge was, the seeds of generosity were nevertheless in his heart. We, too, can change and grow, because the seeds of generosity already have sprouted in our hearts.

The spectrum of generosity can run all the way from Scrooge to awakening; we could call it the Scrooge-Bodhisattva Spectrum. Most of us, I imagine, are a long way from the Scrooge end of the spectrum, and that is important to acknowledge. When it comes to Dharma practice (or indeed any undertaking), it is good to acknowledge and appreciate what we already have in place. We are not starting from zero, but are building on a foundation of existing qualities, activities and aspirations. Our task then is not to become generous but simply to practice generosity more and more. Practicing generosity involves letting go of attachments and generating a sense of abundance. One way to approach this is to look at what gets in the way of being more generous, and what steps to take to overcome our hindrances or resistances. Looking at the hindrances to meditation, we could think of these as states of consciousness that are obstacles to all Dharma practice, page 8

energy in pursuit of the good. Restless energy needs to be channeled into a positive direction and can be given generously to the spiritual community. Anxiety or, as Subhuti refers to it in Mind in Harmony, “a troubled mind” also has a positive counterpart – remorse. Restlessness can be transformed into joy, inspiration and positive energy. Anxiety can be transformed into a recognizing the consequences of our actions. We can bring about this transformation by cultivating a sense of abundance and delight in the beauty that is always around us. We can take time each day to remember the things we enjoy, whether that is meeting a friend or noticing the flowers in the park and the laughter of children. The more we remind ourselves of what is enjoyable and beautiful, the more we will notice and appreciate beauty and pleasure everywhere. This leads to a lessening of anxiety and a more expansive state of consciousness that naturally expresses itself in generosity.

Desire or craving The hindrance of sense desire or craving is about wanting to possess and hold on to objects or people that we think will bring us happiness or bolster our sense of self. This mind state is focused on our own satisfaction and is an attempt to avoid suffering. When we crave an object or person, we focus intently on the positive aspects and completely ignore the actual or potential negative aspects. This way we set ourselves up for disappointment. With this tendency, we can reflect on what really is in our best interest. What do we really desire? What are we projecting on to the things and people we cling to and want to possess? Doing the metta bhavana (loving kindness) meditation and cultivating friendship will alleviate some of the more extreme forms of craving. Engaging with the natural world and the arts and enjoying higher sources of pleasure also help calm the mind. Contentment is the opposite of craving. This positive state of mind is easily satisfied, prefers simplicity and is not overly attached to things or people. When we are content, such as when we have been on retreat, it is easy to be generous and concerned with the welfare of others. Doubt and indecision Doubt and indecision get in the way of being generous, too. We may have second thoughts about whether to give, how much to give, whether what we are giving to is worthwhile or whether our giving will make any difference. All of that fosters indecision that may never be resolved. Second thoughts often are less generous, self-protective thoughts that turn off the tap of generous impulses until the flow becomes a trickle and the trickle becomes nothing. We need to be clear about what we value most, and allow our generosity to flow after our values. If indecisive, we should act impulsively sometimes and just give. Generosity also can be a practice like meditation – something we do every day that changes our mental

We need to be clear about what we value most, and allow our generosity to flow after our values. If indecisive, we should act impulsively sometimes and just give.

states and modifies our habitual personality. I could argue that generosity is a more important practice than meditation. Meditation easily can become a self-centered, ego-making activity whereas generosity is always moving beyond self with the potential to lead to ever greater self-transcendence.

tude exemplified by Scrooge. In some ways, ill will is like the behavior of a child who does not want to share his or her toys. Often at the bottom of ill will or miserliness is fear or insecurity. This is a psychological issue, and if serious, the only solution may be professional guidance. Scrooge, though, is cured by the spiritual process of having a Sloth and torpor vision of the consequences of his The hindrance of sloth and torpor is actions and attitudes. He is shown in not as straightforward as that phrase a series of dreams that if he carries might suggest. I take it to mean a dull, on as he has, he will suffer greatly. In passive, forgetful, unaware state of the Pali Canon, the disciple is encourmind. In relation to generosity this aged to reflect on the positive consemeans not noticing or forgetting imquences of generosity as well as the mediately what is needed. We might negative ones of limiting or crushing have good intentions but never follow our spirit of generosity. through with action. The antidote is Ultimately, the Scrooge-Bodhisattva mindfulness and prompt action. Spectrum is unfair to Scrooge who in When experiencing sloth and torpor the end becomes a generous characwhile meditating, we are encouraged ter indeed. He changes, and we are all to open our eyes. Think of this as a capable of change. Miserly as Scrooge metaphor, too, for generosity. We was, the seeds of generosity were need to open our eyes to the reality nevertheless in his heart. We, too, can and needs of others. The hindrances change and grow, because the seeds overlap in that they are all egotistiof generosity already have sprouted cal and self-centered. The ways to in our hearts. We need to nurture counter the other hindrances also them, and in time the Bodhi heart will can be effective in dealing with sloth flower and make us forget all about and torpor. being generous as generosity will be as natural to us as breathing. Ill will The last line of A Christmas Carol The fifth hindrance is ill will. Ill will says of Scrooge: “His own heart could be called a curmudgeonly atti-

laughed and that was quite enough for him.” May all of our hearts learn to laugh, and may we give out of our abundance.

Ratnaghosha grew up in rural Ireland in the 1960s and left home at age 18 to live and work in London. He trained in accountancy but gave up his career at age 22 to go in search of the meaning of life. This led him to Berlin in the early 1980s where he encountered Buddhism and knew immediately that it was what he had been seeking. He met Triratna through reading Subhuti’s book Buddhism for Today and started going to the London Buddhist Centre. Within a couple of months he was working for the center. He was ordained by Sangharakshita in 1988. He has managed a right livelihood business, Friends Foods; been chair of the London Buddhist Centre; part of the senior management of Windhorse:evolution; and is currently chair of the Cambridge Buddhist Centre. He is private preceptor to 13 men.

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Dana: The First Step of the Spiritual Life

by Acarasiddhi I am fortunate for many reasons. One of them is that years ago I stumbled into the practice of donating blood. While some people are unable to do so or choose not to, I enjoy it. It is easy for me and makes me happy that people unknown to me benefit directly from my gift. And the cookies are always good. Dana (giving or generosity) is for me the basic Buddhist virtue. The feeling of wanting to give, wanting to share, can be the first step of the spiritual life. When I first read Sangharakshita’s Vision and Transformation (since re-titled The Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path) more than 25 years ago, I was drawn to the apparent simplicity of the second precept that we practice as Buddhists. I was especially moved by the emphasis on generosity, and generosity soon became one of my favorite words. I offer here my reflections on that important word via the avenue of its precept. The second precept The negative version of the precept – adinnadana veramani – means, literally, abstention (veramani) from seizing or grasping (adana) that which is not given (adinna). It means not taking or appropriating that which another is not willing to give. It means not exploiting anyone. The second page 10

precept ultimately relates back to the first precept that involves non-violence or doing no harm. If violence is doing to another what he or she does not want us to do, then taking the not given is a form of violence. The positive version of the precept is “With open-handed generosity, I purify my body.” I love to say those words. Generosity can reach the point where there is no distinction between or among the givers, the gifts or the recipients.

1. To whom a gift is given Obviously, a gift is given to anyone and everyone, any living being, but that is a long list. One class of recipients includes our friends and relations. Just as the metta bhavana practice (the development of loving kindness) begins with us, charity begins at home. We are missing the boat if we are generous to strangers while ignoring the needs of those closest to us. But the key word is to begin. Begin at home, yes, but do not stop there. As with the metta bhavana, First of six perfections we extend it beyond ourselves and to More positive still: Dana is the practhose closest to us. tical, altruistic aspect of the BodhiWith the poor, sick, afflicted and sattva’s life, and is the first of the six helpless, there are opportunities for paramitas or perfections: dana, ethics, generosity in all directions. Another patience, effort, meditation and group of recipients for our generosity wisdom. If we can do nothing else, we is those engaged in higher spiritual can give. Our actions may not always activity. When people are really be pure, our meditation practice may trying to make progress spiritually, stink, we may fall asleep after two it is pretty great to help them. The pages of Dharma study, but we can “show-ers of the way,” they are our always give! exemplars. We learn best by example. Unfortunately, we have been We also can give to artists and trained somehow to ask (usually other creative workers for the joy subconsciously, or at least not out and inspiration they give us. Why loud): “What’s in it for me?” Everything was it so terrible to kill a mockingbird we do, until enlightenment, does have in Harper Lee’s wondrous novel, an element of self-reference, and to To Kill a Mockingbird? Because, Atticus break through, we need to give. Finch explained, a mockingbird sings only to give joy and pleasure to the Four aspects of giving world. The farthest from killing is The four traditional aspects of giving. giving are (1) to whom a gift is given; (2) what is given; (3) how it is given; 2. What is given and (4) why it is given. Theoretically, if it can be possessed, it can be given. This includes the

basics like food, clothing and shelter. Sometimes I think to bring sandwiches or snacks when I walk sidewalks laden with unfortunate souls. Usually, though, I confess, I do not. Other basics include time, attention, respect, appreciation and gratitude. These are so obvious, yet so critical. Courage or fearlessness also can be given. Because so many people lack confidence this is one of the most necessary gifts of all. For a dozen years I was a high school teacher and whatever else I taught, I tried to teach confidence. Of course, I could not give it when I did not have it myself. As with all things, if we do not possess it, we do not have it to give. It is something special to give courage, to encourage. Giving and spreading the Dharma – that is quite a gift. But we must be careful when we teach in front of the room or write for the Vajra Bell or Tricycle, for as Shunryu Suzuki, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, cautioned, “Don’t boast about the superior teaching of Buddhism. Not only liquor but also spiritual teaching is intoxicating.” We can give life itself. There are those stories from myth, history, even from today’s news. To give one’s life is asking a lot, and we hope the opportunity is not frequent. But if not life itself, how about donating blood? 3. How it is given Giving should be done courteously, happily, promptly and without subsequent regret. We do not need to talk about it afterwards. We can strain one’s shoulder with too much selfback-patting. Believe me, I know. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.” Giving should be done indiscriminately to friends and foes alike. This is not easy, but we should try it. Give to people’s real needs, not their apparent wants. This, too, can be tricky. 4. Why it is given Do we give for our own reputation? To feel better about ourselves? To

If we can do nothing else, we can give. Our actions may not always be pure, our meditation practice may stink, we may fall asleep after two pages of Dharma study, but we can always give!

secure a place in heaven? In Buddhism, personal gain is immaterial. Rather, through generous action one may begin to overcome greed, one of the three poisons, and thereby come a little closer to enlightenment. That is not a bad return on our investment. But, please, do not worry about motives. As we practice giving whether it is a helping hand, money, kind words, food, a book or encouragement, we may be aware that we are expressing something like, “Hey, look at me, I’m being generous over here! Did you see that?” Do not worry! We are doing a good thing. Eventually, our generosity will become a part of us, and we and the world will benefit. Generosity appears throughout the Buddhist texts. It is the first of the six paramitas and it also is the first of the Sanghravastus (the four conversions). In the context of the conversions, generosity is a means of establishing a positive climate between individuals and among groups of people and fosters spiritual friendship. In short, it helps to form a spiritual community. With practice, giving will become natural, spontaneous and inexhaustible. What could be better? When I donate blood, I receive cookies, snacks and juice, but I do not always get such immediate gratification for

my generosity. When I pay attention though I notice that such acts do lead to positive responses. We can be giving on some level all the time. Recalling the words of Walt Whitman: Behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity. When I give, I give myself.

Acarasiddhi is a California native who has practiced with Triratna since 1991. He became a mitra in 1995 and was ordained by Manjuvajra in 2005. He is grateful to the written word. He occasionally gives talks on his favorite Dharma stories and offers writing workshops at the San Francisco Buddhist Center. His short story collection, Crossing the Lines, was published in 2016 with his author name, Tony Press. In addition to Brisbane, California, he feels at home in Bristol, England, and Oaxaca, Mexico.

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For Love or Money: Is Money a Placeholder for Love in our Lives?

by Amalavajra A version of this article was published by the London Buddhist Centre. —Editor In May 1999, at age 25, I was a bond dealer at J.P. Morgan, a major U.S. investment bank just off Fleet Street in London. I had always wanted to be, yes, a millionaire, and was then well on my way. Why did I want that? At the time I could not have told you, but in retrospect, I see that in my somewhat limited imagination it was a placeholder for life and love. Sounds pretty stupid, right? We all know that money is just a tool that human society created to help us exchange goods and services and to store and accumulate value. It is a means not an end. So what was I thinking? Of course, I was not thinking, I was wishing, which arguably is what all of us do in our lives most of the time. Money was a powerful symbol for all page 12

that I deeply wanted, a kind of totem. Being only a representation of value (“I promise to pay the bearer. . . “), money is a blank canvas which we color with our deepest hopes and desires for respect, security, freedom – even love. Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher, called it “abstract happiness.” For the Buddhist writer David Loy, it is “frozen desire,” one that can never be satisfied. According to Buddhist teachings, we all experience a deep sense of lack that springs from an intuition that we do not really exist in any substantial or permanent sense. Yes, we have real experiences – sensuous, mental, emotional – in relation to ourselves, others and the world around us. However, these experiences are constantly changing and are never quite what we want, or if they are, they are not for very long. Where in that constantly changing flow of experiences could we possibly find any core, stable me? Money, on the other hand, seems solid, permanent – at least in the

absence of hyper-inflation – and deeply satisfying. It is ours, and we can buy almost anything we want with it. This props up our sense of identity, helps us to feel more real. It helps us feel we are the kind of guy who uses Apple products, wears the latest fashion, drinks almond milk lattes and goes on kite surfing holidays. This may sound innocent enough. After all, there is nothing wrong with Apple products in themselves. But what if this yearning to secure our sense of self and to pay for it, compels us to give the best of our life’s energy to meaningless or even harmful work? What if it destroys our relationships with close family or friends? What if it even causes us to commit crimes or acts of violence? One study found that 90 percent of all crimes in the U.S. are motivated by money. It is worth looking at what money symbolizes for us and reflecting upon whether it is likely to deliver. Is wealth likely to make others love me? It will certainly win me more attention from others, if often the ingratiating kind,

as well as a consistent gale of envy. I also would have to bear the stress and complexity of managing, investing and protecting it and the possessions I buy with it. Instead, thanks to years of wise friendship and help in training my mind at the London Buddhist Centre (LBC), I finally began to find love. But guess what? I have not found it outside of me in money and what it can buy, but rather in developing my own heart’s capacity to experience and offer warmth and love to others. Yes, I have needed money to live while I do this, but not those millions I aimed for as a young man. Actually I have lived very happily on about £1,000 per month – just under the minimum wage in the U.K. – or less for the past 18 years. How have I done this and in London of all places? The answer is that I have found simpler ways to meet my needs. I do not visit restaurants, take taxis, wear designer clothes like I used to, but my life is happier, and – wait for it – richer. I do not need those compensations for a hard week’s work, because I am living the life I want to with friends. To be clear, I am not advocating minimizing the presence of filthy lucre in one’s life. That is just another self-identification. Like manure, money can smell a bit, but it is good wholesome stuff if used well. As Sir Francis Bacon, English philosopher and statesman, said four centuries ago, “Money is like muck, except it be spread.” To put it another way, money is an energy that is not really mine or yours. Yet, if we choose to, we can use money to reduce suffering in the world. After leaving banking just one month short of age 26, I became a fundraiser and have become very interested in the spiritual practice of giving money. How can an act that we all agree on is good, feel so instinctively wrong and complex at the decisive moment? Why is there often an inner battle between the wish to help and the tightening sense that, “No, I need that money?”

There is a constant tussle in our hearts and minds between what we might call the small self that worries, hoards, conceals and rationalizes those urges in 101 unlovely ways, and a bigger self that wants to give.

I think it is because when we give, we give away. Money given is money lost forever. We feel that we have given away a part of ourselves, that we have become less real, less potent, less free, and have lost some of whatever it is money symbolizes for us. Yet, perversely, after giving we feel more alive, more connected to others, happier. As a fundraiser I have been struck when sometimes donors thank me after making their gift. So how to explain our strong and persistent “no” to giving away our money? It comes back to that sense of self. There is a constant tussle in our hearts and minds between what we might call the small self that worries, hoards, conceals and rationalizes those urges in 101 unlovely ways, and a bigger self that wants to give. Consider looking at the spiritual, or truly human, life as a gradual siding with this ever-bigger self until eventually the notion of a self falls away altogether. This is what the Buddha called Enlightenment or Awakening. When I first came to the LBC at age 23 in 1996 I was not a bad man, and I probably was not on my way to becoming one although I was selling the products that evolved into those that caused the 2008 banking crisis.

However, had I simply continued accumulating money in the hope of somehow converting it into happiness later, I would have found myself a disappointed and perhaps rather dull, older man. Instead, thanks to the LBC, I have exchanged those promissory notes for the real thing.

Amalavajra lives at Adhisthana in the U.K. where he raises money for Triratna through FutureDharma Fund. He co-founded FutureDharma ( in 2016 to seed and strengthen Triratna sanghas around the world. He always has been interested in money, having studied economics at Cambridge University and then worked for J.P. Morgan. He also is passionate about community living. He was ordained in 2005.

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arts at aryaloka Kesa and Rakusu – Symbols of Commitment to Buddhist Path Artist Anne Cooper of Los Ranchos, NM, presents 18 three-dimensional pieces inspired by rakusu, a traditional Japanese garment worn by Zen Buddhists who have taken precept vows, in an exhibit at the Aryaloka Buddhist Center through November. The pieces in the show – “The Feel of the Needle: Rakusu Project” – are made with hand-sewn paper the artist has collected rather than with the traditional cloth. Each piece reflects a haiku poem of Santoka Taneda, a Japanese mendicant monk, author and haiku poet who lived from 1882 to 1940. The artist was inspired by the history of rakusu or kesa that are symbols of ordination and expressions of a lifetime commitment to the Buddhist path. The rakusu is a sacred bib-like garment that is handsewn by the ordinant as an act of meditation and devotion. The sewing of rakusu or kesa requires careful attention and skill as a mantra verse is recited with each stitch. Today, rakusu is worn both by ordained priests and those who take lay vows in the Zen tradition. Historically, the rakusu evolved from a larger kesa of five to 21 panels. During the Chinese T’ang Dynasty (7th century), monks were stripped of their robes and required to do manual labor. The rakusu was created to be worn under work clothes as a silent symbol of devotion. The traditional kesa or kasaya is a rectangular, patched and quilted garment, a sacred cloth given to a monk at ordination symbolizing Buddhist teaching, and, when given, serves as a physical transmission from teacher to student. Reflecting a monk’s vow of poverty, the garment is made of discarded cloth. Scraps or rags are collected - a symbol of humility; washed and dyed with plant page 14

material - symbolizing purification; cut apart - representing detachment from worldly goods; and then sewn together in a proscribed pattern with devotion and prayer. Sangharakshita, the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order, wore such a symbolic, ochre-dyed robe when he was ordained as a Theravadan monk in 1949 in India. However, when he started the Western Buddhist Order (the precursor to Triratna) 50 years ago he wanted a simpler form to be worn over western clothing. He chose a collar-style kesa for Triratna ordination, similar to a Shin Buddhist form. Triratna order members say that the kesa represents both their commitment to the Three Jewels and their participation in collective practice. Inspired by this history, the artist was drawn to create more than 60 images of the traditional cloth rakusu but made them using paper she had collected. She incorporated Satoka Taneda’s haiku poetry, adding to the inspiration of each colorful piece. — Kiranada

Wood Block Prints Feature New England Scapes Color woodblock prints by New Hampshire artist Matt Brown will be featured in an exhibit April-May 2019 at the Aryaloka Buddhist Center. The prints of New England mountains, lakes and rocky shorelines are made using the traditional Japanese moku hanga method of woodblock printing, a technique developed during the Edo period (17th-19th centuries) when Japan was isolated from the rest of the world. The prints

“Moon over Mt. Desert Island” is one of the wood block prints by artist Matt Brown on exhibit at Aryaloka this coming spring. are made by hand, color by color, from multiple carved blocks. Printing materials are water, rice paste and pigment, and printing tools are brushes and a handheld tool for pressing paper to block called a baren. Primarily a self-taught printmaker, Brown discovered moku hanga at an exhibit of Japanese prints at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and has been making prints since 1993. — Deb Howard

Remembering Sangharashita 1925-2018 We at the Vajra Bell received the sad news of the death of Urgyen Sangharakshita, founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community, as we were going to press. He passed away on October 30, 2018, in the U.K. The funeral took place at his home at the Adhisthana Retreat Centre. To truly understand Triratna, it is vital to connect with the mind and heart of the man who started it all. To do that, we published the stories of people who had met him and their connections with our great teacher in Spring 2015. We invite you to revisit that issue ( vajrabell/vajra-bell-2015-04.pdf) You can learn more about Sangharakshita’s life and teachings and share your memories on the Sangharakshita Memorial Space. “It was the poet in Sangharakshita that led him to the religious life, and it was the path of renunciation that enabled him to see the world in a wider and truer perspective, which is the hallmark of genuine poetry.” — Lama Anagarika Govinda in the introduction to The Veil of Stars by Sangharakshita (1954) Here are two poems by Sangharakshita, reprinted from Complete Poems 1941-1994 with the kind permission of Windhorse Publications.

After Meditation (1967) As the last gong-stroke dies away, Shiver on shiver, into the deep silence, Opening my eyes, I find myself In a green-mossed underground cave Overarching still waters whereon White lotuses, half open, are peacefully smiling.

Four Gifts (1975) I come to you with four gifts. The first gift is a lotus-flower. Do you understand? My second gift is a golden net. Can you recognize it? My third gift is a shepherds’ round-dance. Do your feet know how to dance? My fourth gift is a garden planted in a wilderness. Could you work there? I come to you with four gifts. Dare you accept them?

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book reviews Book Offers Economic Education and Ways Dharma Can Change the World by Lilasiddhi The Buddha on Wall Street is not a dry economic tome. It is a vibrant read, even for me, who has never read an economics book in my life. Vaddhaka, an economist and an order member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, explains the people, terms and historical developments you may have heard about for years but, perhaps, never quite understood. Who was Adam Smith? What did he say in his 1776 book, The Wealth of Nations? Why is it still so influential? What is capitalism really? What is neoliberal capitalism or free market economics? Who was the economist Milton Friedman? How do corporations control legislation, politics and the Supreme Court? Is there any way out of this current mess of ever increasing financial inequality, social polarization and constant war? The Buddha on Wall Street covers all this territory – and more – in clear, enjoyable prose. Vaddhaka explains the developing economic and corporate policies, political machinations and the personalities that are shaping our current worldwide economic, social and environmental difficulties. Before reading this book, I had heard the names of many of these people, organizations and concepts Vaddhaka cites, but I had no idea how they all worked together to create the current hegemony of the top 1 percent. Vaddhaka provides a sometimes shocking education in economic, social, corporate and political realities. Vaddhaka contends that in the pursuit of an ever-increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), free market capitalism is sacrificing page 16

our environment, social cohesion, morality, ethics and the mental and physical health of 99 percent of the world’s people to boost the wealth of CEOs, shareholders and the top 1 percent. All the tricks of the advertising industry and the ever faster and distracting technology are abetting this takeover of the world’s thinking and resources. But The Buddha on Wall Street is not a diatribe of depression. As an antidote to this moral slide, Vaddhaka lifts our spirits and our hopes by explaining how the Dharma, if spread and applied in this world now, can lead us out of this morass. By following the Dharma and the precepts – highlighting compassion over corporation – we can change our behavior to alter the trajectory of social/economic development. For example, the second noble truth teaches us that craving and greed are the source of suffering. The third precept tells us that stillness, simplicity and contentment reduce our craving and encourage us to reduce input. We see that external stuff and stimulation will not make us happy. The practices of metta and compassion sensitize us to the needs and suffering of all beings and motivate our activities. The truth of anatta (non-self) shows us we are not separate from any other being. We exist in a web of interconnection and mutual becoming. Vaddhaka cites four Buddhists and their messages to inspire our efforts to rebalance our world: Sangharakshita, founder of Triratna; Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Indian social reformer; David Loy, scholar, Zen teacher and author; and Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Theravada Buddhist monk and editor of In the Buddha’s Words. These voices encourage us to see beyond individual enlightenment.

They urge us to engage with the world and its suffering in practical ways by transforming our individual mental states and the state of the world. Do not get overwhelmed by the infinite needs of the world, they say. Rather, we must find our own particular passion for transforming the world and work on that be it ecology, hunger, racism or politics. We should find what is most compelling for us, get involved, keep a tight focus on that and not scatter our energies. We can let our passion for change in any of these areas lift our spirits and energy. And always, we must continue to transform our minds. The Buddha on Wall Street is an important and inspiring book – and a fun read. It offers a rich economic education and inspires us to take on manageable efforts to transform self and world. Read it!

Lilasiddhi was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in Spain in 2012. She teaches introductory Buddhism and mitra classes, leads workshops and co-leads Noble Silence retreats at Aryaloka Buddhist Center.

An ebook version of The Buddha on Wall Street: what’s wrong with capitalism and what we can do about it can be ordered from Windhorse Publications. An interview with Vaddhaka also can be seen at this link. Windhorse and also sell the paperback version.

Writing Yasodhara: A Novel about the Buddha’s Wife by Vanessa Sasson (Photo: Bunny Smith)

As a scholar of Buddhist studies, I have dedicated the bulk of my career to the Buddha’s life story. I have spent decades reading, analyzing and exploring Buddhist sources from different parts of the world. The Buddha’s life story has been told so many times, in so many different ways, I cannot imagine a moment when I will feel that I am done. It is the great epic narrative of the Buddhist tradition, and like all great epics, it is a fount of unlimited inspiration. The Buddha’s wife – Yasodhara – is an integral part of this narrative. She is with him in countless past life narratives, sharing his journey as his wife from one life to the next. She is with him in his final life from infancy through renunciation and beyond. Wherever the Buddha went,

This is the paradox of the Buddha’s story, the suffering behind his narrative that is so often overlooked.

book reviews Yasodhara was never far away, and yet somehow she seems to have slipped through the cracks of our memories. Yasodhara has become a footnote, if she is anything at all. But Yasodhara is not a footnote. Yasodhara shared her journey with the Buddha for lifetimes. Pali sources tell us that the Buddha and Yasodhara took their final rebirth together, arriving in the world for the last time at the very same instant in the very same kingdom – one might almost say as “one.” They grew up together, married and had a son. But then the Bodhisattva abandoned her the day she gave birth. He left her to pursue his quest for awakening, leaving her to fend for herself in a palace surrounded by in-laws with a newborn to care for. Because renunciation is traditionally understood to be a kind of social death, she also became a widow, wearing the white clothes of death even though her husband was very much alive. When the Buddha returned to the kingdom seven or eight years later, he took their son back to the forest with him, causing her to lose even more. Yasodhara’s story is one of tremendous loss. She loses one piece of her life after another in a series of devastating blows. While the Buddha was traipsing through the forest looking for the answer to suffering, Yasodhara was left behind to suffer. This is the paradox of the Buddha’s story, the suffering behind his narrative that is so often overlooked. I have spent my career as an observer, peering over the walls of the tradition with careful academic scrutiny. With this book, I decided to leap over the wall and enter the story myself. I let myself become Yasodhara and experience her life as though it were my own. I wanted to know her and the story I had been studying for decades with greater intimacy. By engaging with the story in this way, I learned, more than anything else, that her life was much harder

than I had previously appreciated. Yasodhara suffered while the Buddha contemplated suffering. If Buddhism is about suffering, then her story is one we should engage with the most. Yasodhara knew suffering in its deepest sense, and in the end, she managed to let it all go. Vanessa R. Sasson is a professor of religious studies in the liberal arts department of Marianopolis College in Westmount, Quebec, Canada, where she has been teaching since 1999. She is also a research fellow for the University of the Free State in South Africa, as well as an adjunct professor of comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal. She has published widely as a scholar. Yasodhara is her first novel. She visited Aryaloka in August for a book reading. The book is available at Buddhaworks, Aryaloka’s bookstore, or on

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The generosity of friends The San Francisco Buddhist Center announced last spring that its five-acre Lake County property has been named “Dharmadhara” which means Dharma Mountain. Thanks to the generosity of many people, the Sangha was successful in raising funds and structures to get it ready for retreatants. Unfortunately, smoke from wildfires sweeping California forced us to move our summer retreat. Our friends at Jikoji Zen Center generously opened their doors to us at the last minute for a wonderful summer retreat on the Karaniya Metta Sutta led by Dhammarati. — Mary Salome


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Generosity – collectively and individually On a Sunday morning this summer our Sangha met in Prospect Park in Portsmouth for meditation and conversation about how we think about and experience generosity in the context of our Buddhist practice. One theme we discussed was how we show generosity in our interactions with others. For example, we can be fully present, not take up other people’s time by talking too much about what we are interested in, or simply by bringing our selves and our stories into the group. Another theme touched on the connections among generosity, compassion and gratitude. As one person said, “I can be more generous when I am feeling grateful.” We also linked generosity to our meditation practice. “I have come to see there’s a connection between the ethical practices I aspire to and my meditation practice,” said one Sangha member. And another said, “On the cushion, I give kindness to myself, then I can take that out into the world.” We noted that, as individuals, many of us are practicing generosity with local organizations, and that in the future we might want to do more of that together. Someone also noted we were meeting in a city park – as we do every Sunday in the summer – thanks to the generosity of Portsmouth taxpayers! Since April 2017, when a large fire next door to our center forced us to move out, our Sangha has been on the receiving end of a great deal of generosity from the community. Several non-profits and the Portsmouth Public Library have let us use their spaces rent-free. Individuals have hosted classes and gatherings in their homes, and we have continued to offer all our programs by donation. Our Sangha is thriving thanks to all of - RMS continued on page 21 this kind generosity. —Shraddhavani

Mitra study Nagaloka continues along the path of being a spiritual community offering meditation and Dharma study in Portland, ME. Dharmasuri stepped down as chairperson a year ago, but thanks to the generous support of the management team, the center continues with its scheduled programs. This includes a Monday evening open sit, Wednesday friends’ night and Sunday morning meditation. Dharmasuri also leads mitra study Sundays twice a month. In addition to Dharmasuri, team members who support these programs include Janet Miles, Louise Tuski, Nancy Artz, Stacey Guth, Tom Handel, Matt Holden and Linda Umbel. Nagaloka continues to be TRIRATNA NYC financially stable due to the generous (NEW YORK CITY, NY) support of Sangha members and Dana of the senses through the sublease of the space Dana with our eyes to a bodyworker. The center, too, Looking carefully, kindly and deeply appreciates the generosity of at others. Giving our attention to see visiting order members. Vajradaka who others truly are to the best of our from the U.K. led a friends’ evening ability. Developing the vision to look in the spring, and this summer past judgment, beyond appearances Shantigarbha, also of the U.K., visited as we wander the world. Knowing that to launch his new book I’ll Meet You looks can be deceiving, but that our There. lives are largely driven by the same —Dharmasuri underlying truths. ROCKY MOUNTAIN SANGHA Dana of our ears (MISSOULA, MT) Listening to the challenges of each The ground’s generosity takes in our other’s lives, the teachings of our compost and grows beauty! Try to be hearts with love and devotion. Truly more like the ground. hearing each other’s stories without —Rumi thought for response or what should come next. Taking in each other’s Generosity as spiritual practice wisdom. Learning from the unique Interesting to reflect on how perspectives of others. generosity plays out in our spiritual community and how we plant those Dana from our mouths seeds, tend the garden and see the Kind words, carefully considered, bounty burst forth. Dana as dollars is freely given. Giving of ourselves, necessary, but generosity is so much our knowledge, our understanding. - NYC continued on page 21


sangha profile

Boston Sangha: Supporting Spiritual Friendship The Vajra Bell is taking a different approach to Sangha Notes in this issue. To highlight the wide array of Sanghas and centers in the Triratna Buddhist Order, we are launching a series of Sangha Profiles starting with the Boston Sangha. We also are now asking each Sangha to offer their practices and reflections on a particular topic in each issue. This time, we asked them to speak to “generosity.” — Editors

order in 2004, compassionately and skillfully leads and guides the Boston Sangha. She provides insight into the Dharma and makes sure everyone is heard. When members cannot come in person, she makes it possible to phone in so that we can maintain our connection with the community. “Most people join us having taken my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class,” Sunada says, “so they already know how to meditate, understand what it means to have a personal practice and appreciate the support of a group of like-minded people. Everyone is there to learn and share. We all inspire and spark each other off. I love this little Sangha!” Sangha members practice dana (generosity) by showing up for each

other and providing support – during both difficult and joyful times. Our circle of chairs is a place where people can be vulnerable, ask for support and go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Since I joined the Sangha, three members have become mitras and one was ordained. Two mitras have asked for ordination including myself. Starting this fall Sunada, Sravaniya (who runs our mitra study) and Cittavan together as a team will lead the Sangha. This small group reflects the Sangha and spiritual friendship. It is a community which practices and grows together on the path. — Lisa Lassner

“Lord, I’ve been thinking – spiritual friendship is at least half of the spiritual life!” The Buddha replied: “Say not so, Ananda, say not so. Spiritual friendship is the whole of the spiritual life!” — Samyutta Nikaya, Verse 2 When I went looking for a Sangha five years ago, I found the Boston Triratna Sangha and a close-knit group of friends. I was immediately accepted and welcomed. The Sangha is small; between six and 15 usually attend our weekly Sangha nights Tuesdays in two rooms rented from the Boston Theosophical Society. We meditate together and then discuss a weekly Dharma reading. The size enables us to have deeper discussions and develop closer spiritual friendships. We explore the Dharma, wrestle with ethics and speak about our triumphs and our sorrows in a safe space where everyone can share – the experienced, the new, the gregarious and the shy. Order member Sunada Takagi, who was ordained in the Triratna

The Boston Sangha welcomed Ilke Ercan (bottom left) from the Instanbul, Turkey, Sangha. Welcoming her were (left to right at the top) Sunada Takagi, Keith Godbout, Lisa Lassner, Haakon Chevalier, Ed Buice and Sue Cross (front with thumbs up).

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Bodhana: A Rare, Dedicated Meditation Teacher, Guide, Support and Resource living by the Buddha’s teachings, and he lived his ordination commitments strictly and thoroughly. The sincerity and faithfulness of his spiritual life taught and inspired all of us at Aryaloka. Anyone who spent serious time with Bodhana realized quickly that he was the real thing. He was simply himself. Unpretentious. Honest. Direct. Immensely kind in a way that was without show, that was perfectly natural. Much of his way of being connected back to his unwavering, strict, disciplined devotion to meditation. Bodhana was a natural meditator but also put intense study, effort and time into meditating. The concentration, joy, depth and utter peace of his mind radiated in his meditation. He was a rare and wonderful meditation teacher, guide, support and resource. Bodhana was uncompromisingly committed to living a virtuous life in accordance with Buddhist precepts. The connection between ethical behavior and meditative clarity was strong in him. This was particularly evident in his prison work and development of intensive silent meditation retreats. His prison volunteer work began when he was still a mitra. Bodhana The hand of death touched a Buddhist life and teaching the Dharresponded to a letter from a gentleAryaloka Buddhist Center in May. ma to others. He expressed this in so man who was incarcerated asking if Bodhana, 69, died within weeks of many ways and to so many people someone from our community could learning he had cancer. He was a vital through his connection to Aryaloka. provide him with information about part of the Aryaloka community for In 2007 Vidhuma had the privilege Buddhism. This started a corresponmany years, and his loss has shaken and honor of ordaining Bodhana into dence followed by prison visits that us deeply. the Triratna Buddhist Order. Arjava grew into regular teaching sessions at We were part of a group that met and Bodhana were privately ordained the New Hampshire state prison. regularly with Bodhana. We all found on the same evening and shared their Bodhana brought his whole Aryaloka at about the same in the late public ordination a few days later. energy to his meditation and study 1980s and 1990s, attended retreats They had been close friends throughsessions there. This practice became and studied Buddhism together. In out the years leading up to their the Khanti outreach program that time, we all were ordained. ordination and worked side by side in now has several teachers from Bodhana had two great loves. First the years afterward. They were closer Aryaloka involved in volunteer work was his family, which included his than blood brothers, Arjava being in N.H. correctional facilities as well wife, Pat Carr, of more than 45 years, a constant companion to Bodhana as the Federal Prison system in his two children and three grandthrough the final days of his life. Massachusetts and New Hampshire. daughters. His second love was living Bodhana was deeply committed to page 20

sangha notes - NYC continued from page 18 Communicating appreciation for skills, actions, efforts without expectation. The language of compassion in sorrow, joy in celebration and all that falls in between. Our hearty and resounding sadhus and the blessing of silence. Dana of touch The warm hugs we share at every opportunity, and the strength and love we offer each other. The dana of reaching out to help, to hold, to comfort, to rejoice. Freely given funds to help one another pay medical bills, retreat costs or simply rent. The offering of ourselves to the less fortunate without discrimination, with a glance, a nod, a kind word, a dollar, a slice, a subway swipe, a cup of coffee, a sandwich or more. Dana of taste Offering sustenance to others, carefully preparing the right mix

Bodhana also initiated the noble silence retreats that became a regular part of the Aryaloka program. He continued to lead them with other order members right through this calendar year. Deeply committed to them, he trained others to carry them on. They have become a significant part of the legacy Bodhana has left to Aryaloka. Bodhana was at the heart of the Aryaloka community: teaching, leading retreats, fixing broken toilets, cleaning and running the kitchen. He was a living example of the best a human being can offer. He was unashamedly himself. Pure Bodhana. Direct and unadulterated. His mind/heart was clear and loving. He was man at peace in his living and his dying.

- RMS continued from page 18 more. Our Sangha sees unconditional caring and compassion when someone gives a car to a community member in need, organizes meals for someone fallen ill, cleans the center time after time, listens deeply when fellow mates are sharing from a deep heart space, shows up for class even when bone tired, or steps out of their comfort zone to facilitate or support a class because it is the right thing to do for the greater good. Rocky Mountain is a small center so small gestures are blessings within our immediate spiritual community. The bigger picture of generosity as spiritual practice really becomes evident when the seeds that are — Gary Baker with contributions from planted and tended burst forth into Ananta and Syma the community and beyond. One sees and hears how the Dharma is working in people’s lives at home and at work, in environmental causes and politics. We see how people share what they have learned by example, deed and voice. —Samatara

of spices, grains, vegetables and proteins. Retreat meals in silence, respecting the effort, the path our food has taken. Giving attention to the complexity of tastes in every mouthful. Dana of smell Appreciation of the beauty of nature, the aroma of food being prepared, of flowers living alongside us. And the dana of the perfume of coffee on retreat mornings, wafting up to us in our warm beds. The knowledge that someone arose early to be of service. The smell drawing us together to continue our journeys.

Give for the Benefit of Others The Vajra Bell is published by The Aryaloka Buddhist Center that is supported exclusively by the generosity of our Sangha members and friends. If you like what you see and read here, please give so we can continue to pass this on for the benefit of others around the world. Donate now at http://www. donate-or-pledge/

— Members of Bodhana’s chapter: Arjava, Karunasara, Suraksita, Vihanasari and Vidhuma

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sangha connections Amritamati: ‘I Wanted to be a Daughter of the Buddha’ by Shraddhavani

loved the simplicity of monastery life. “Getting up at four in the mornSue Clark discovered ing, sleeping on a concrete slab, not Buddhism as a teeneating after noon, all this sort of thing ager in a book of the seemed to really connect with me.” Buddha’s teachings her Thus began a year of “following the father brought home Buddhist trail” in Asia. After her time from his travels in Asia. “I called in the monastery, Sue headed to India myself a Buddhist from that time on,” where she planned to do a couple of she said. “I didn’t know any Buddhists intensive meditation retreats. Prior to and didn’t know where to go to be the first retreat, she spent a month one, but I always thought I was going in Kathmandu, Nepal, where, accordto be a hundred-percent-committed ing to The Lonely Planet travel guide, Buddhist one day.’” there were regular classes and short In college, she studied Buddhism retreats offered by the Friends of the in the first two terms of her religion Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) as and philosophy course then dropped Triratna was then called. out, thinking she had gotten what The FWBO rented a room on the she wanted. She was a vegetarian top floor of the Hotel Asia and conand read Buddhist books, but the ducted classes on the flat roof. Sue conditions for serious practice trekked up several flights of stairs eluded her. She became a mental and found the teacher, Amoghacitta, health nurse with the National Health sitting on the balcony. He welcomed Service (NHS) in the U.K., joining a her and then invited her to come on work culture of spending “a lot of time their next retreat. Before going back working very hard and then getting to India as planned, she took classes very drunk at the end of the shift.” and went on two retreats. When she After reading Subhuti’s Buddhism returned to Nepal and joined a third for Today in 1986, Sue went to the five-day retreat, Amoghacitta asked London Buddhist Centre (LBC). Howwhen she was going to ask for ordiever, an episode of petit mal epileptic nation. seizure during that visit caused her to “I think it was pretty obvious how pass out at the end of the meditation. enthusiastic I was,” she said, “but I She feared meditation had brought remember saying, ‘I don’t even know on the seizure and was too embarwhat it means to be a mitra!’“ rassed to go back to the LBC. She felt she had found her spiritual New opportunities to connect to home though. “After one class the Buddhism arose when she left her two order members leading it walked London life and embarked on a multi- away with arms around each other year backpacking trip. A year into her laughing,” she said. “I thought, this is travels in 1991, she lived for a while in the Sangha I want to be ordained into, a monastery in Thailand. because there was something about “That was it for me,” she said. “I their joy in the Dharma, joy in their took myself much more seriously practice, the depth of friendship, and after that.” She hated meditating – the sense of community and Sangha “my back ached after 10 minutes, – something that was really missing I couldn’t concentrate” – but she in Thailand (at the monastery), where page 22

there was not a strong sense of Sangha, especially for women.” Changes with ordination: finding her own way A few weeks later, Sue was back in the U.K. and returned to the LBC. Her response to Amoghacitta’s suggestion of asking for ordination notwithstanding, she had known since age 16 that she wanted to be an ordained Buddhist. “I wanted to be a daughter of the Buddha.” Seeking ordination was a way to express that wish. Not to seem too eager, she waited a few months before asking to become a mitra and for ordination. After that things slowed down, as she still knew very little about the Dharma and was quite shy. But she set out to do everything it seemed she was supposed to do to get ordained: started mitra study, went on ordination training retreats, lived in communities, participated in groups working at the Buddhist center and did all the recommended practices. In 1998 she went a step further, leaving her NHS job and going to work in the FWBO’s Wild Cherry Restaurant, a right livelihood business. She also moved into the women’s community connected to the restaurant. A little more than three years later, however, she returned to her work in dementia care at NHS and moved out of the community to live on her own. Shortly thereafter, her mother died unexpectedly and her focus shifted from the ordination process to dealing with her loss and supporting her father and sister. Looking back on this time, Amritamati reflected that it was only when she stepped out of fullon engagement in the effort to get ordained that she began to get close

I felt I have a lot of love to give, and I wanted the love and affection I have to be much more widely spread.

as an adult she realized she wanted a simple life but not in a monastery. Becoming an anagarika offered a middle way. Though people tend to focus on the practice of the dakini Vajravarahi at to being ready for ordination. Her challenge of celibacy in anagarika life, ordination, then added a second time at the Wild Cherry Restaurant for Amritamati the challenge is more practice visualizing the bodhisattva was positive in many ways, but she around how to have possessions Avalokitesvara. After a few years and had not been happy there. She came and the security they afford without following an intensive solitary retreat to realize that her work with dementia getting caught up in grasping and with these practices, she put them patients was more meaningful than clinging. For her ceremony, she chose aside and focused instead on the working in a restaurant. Also, as an a reading of the Karaniya Metta Sutta, mindfulness practices often described introvert, she needed her own space on developing loving kindness toward as the direct path to realization: to come home to after work. all living beings, without discriminasatipatthana and anapanasati. Acting on these realizations retion. This, for her, is what becoming Stemming from her time in solved the inner tension of “an an anagarika was about. Thailand, perhaps, she always had individualist in conformist clothing.” “It wasn’t about moving away from envisioned her Buddhist self “in the Being on her own, she took charge sexual relationships particularly, saffron robes [of the Theravada], not of her practice and relied on that to though that was part of it. It was more the red Tibetan robes.” She also loved carry her through the challenges she about non-exclusivity. I felt I have a lot the simplicity of satipatthana. faced, especially when her mother of love to give, and I wanted the love “It’s so clearly a practice about bedied. “I wasn’t meditating. I hadn’t and affection I have to be much more ing both on and off the cushion,” she been meditating regularly for a year widely spread.” said, “because you’re just constantly when I went on my ordination retreat. Amritamati left Tiratanaloka this coming back to what is your immediBut reality was right in my face. I had year. She will spend a year or more ate experience.” Recently, she did the to reflect on dukkha, on non-self, on in Spain supporting Akashavana, the order’s insight inquiry process, which interconnectedness.” women’s retreat center. She then will she found to be helpful for daily disciAll these elements propelled her move to a small house in Shrewsbury pline. It seemed a natural outcome of into more effective going for refuge. in the West Midlands section of Enher satipatthana practice. She was ordained on retreat in Italy gland where she plans to live simply In 2008 Amritamati left the NHS in 2003. Maitreyi, her preceptor, gave and also host friends, family and mitra again to live in community as part of her the name Amritamati, meaning study groups. the women’s ordination training team “she whose heart is set on realizing at Tiratanaloka, a retreat center in the deathless.” Wales. Soon afterwards, she took the Current practice: simplicity additional ordination vows to become Shraddhavani was ordained “My practice is to try to get through an anagarika – a commitment to a at Akashavana in Spain the day without harming myself lifestyle of simplicity and celibacy. earlier this year. or others,” Amritamati said. As for Though her 16-year-old self had meditation, she took on a visualization envisioned becoming a Buddhist nun,

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Wild Awake: Alone, Offline & Aware in Nature by Vajragupta “…up the beck, over the ridge of a hill and suddenly I was in the presence of the lake. It did feel like a presence, a slight, strange charge in the air, an uncanny feeling that something significant could happen. . . All of a sudden I was in silence: the white noise, the rushing white, black, and tobacco yellow of the beck was behind me and the pool sat perfectly still and quiet. No birds sang. It was a quiet that cleansed, an almost disquieting quiet. There was a rush of emptiness in my ears; the mind reached out, searched round for some sound. But there was only the silence. This silence, this absence, simultaneously expanded me outside of myself, beyond the internal chatter, and also threw me back on myself; I became more aware of myself as a being, a creature, in a place, as a voice in a landscape. Where did that silence reside: ‘inside’ my mind, or ‘out there’ around the lake? It suddenly seemed to be not one or the other, nor both, nor neither.” — Wild Awake, page 37 Wild Awake: Alone, Offline & Aware in Nature was published earlier this year by Windhorse Publications. It is the story of my discovery of the practice of solitary retreats. I have done solitaries almost every year for the last 25 years, and I love them. The book tells of my discovering how being in nature, in relationship with landscapes and creatures around me, is an intrinsic and valuable part of these solitaries. I have written other Dharma books and discovered a passion for writing. I wanted to develop my writ-

spreading the dharma

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ing, and I asked myself how I could do that. “Write about what you love,” was the answer that came to me. So I asked myself: “What do I love?” “Solitary retreats and nature,” was the answer. Of course, they are not the only things I love, but I realized that solitary retreats and nature were what I really wanted to write about. I was inspired by the rich tradition (and more recent renaissance) of nature writing in America and the U.K. My experiences on solitaries in the wild have led me to explore nature writing. The best of it ranks as great literature. I came across writers who wrote extraordinarily beautiful prose and who said fascinating things about our relationship with place, and the way the outer and inner worlds speak to each other. I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and, of course, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: or, Life in the Woods. From the U.K. side of the Atlantic were books such as J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine, Nan Shepard’s The Living Mountain, and the works of Robert McFarlane. When I wrote Wild Awake I was, in a way, trying to do nature writing as a Buddhist practitioner, offering my attempt at Buddhist nature writing. Wild Awake contains practical advice about how to do solitary retreats. There is an “A-Z Guide to Solitaries” at the end. But the book mainly tries to evoke the magic of being alone in a wild and beautiful place. I describe how, on solitary retreat, the heart opens, the barriers between self and other come down, and the world is there, more fully and beautifully than ever before. Each chapter finds me at a certain life phase, spending time at a particular location: A caravan on a peninsula in West Wales, a


cabin hidden in a mountain valley in southern Spain, a wooden shack on a beach in the Scottish Highlands, a charming stone cottage in Cumbria’s hill farming country, an old ferryman’s dwelling overlooking a mile-wide estuary, an artist’s studio with a view across a river to Cornwall woodlands, a remote lodge on the shore of a Scottish loch. I describe my relationship with these and other special places. I describe how the land has a power to shape and color how we think and feel. The form and texture of a landscape can form and texture our imaginations. Something of our inner landscape is mirrored in the outer landscape, so we see it more clearly. Something of that outer landscape reflects back again, casting new light on the inner. There is a reciprocity where the boundary between inner and outer, or subject and object, become more diaphanous, less fixed and definite. The more alert and attentive we are, the more the world will come alive, speaking or gesturing to us in particular ways. For me, solitary retreats are a precious opportunity to delve into this way of being.

keeping sangha connected

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