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Sangharakshita In the Sign of the Golden Wheel E D I T E D B Y K A LYA N A P R A B H A

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Windhorse Publications 17e Sturton Street Cambridge cb1 2sn uk © Sangharakshita, 2019 The right of Sangharakshita to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Cover design by Dhammarati Cover images: Back flap © Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx; front: Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, ????????????. Photograph of standing Buddha by courtesy of Padmajaya. The photograph of Allen Ginsberg in Calcutta was taken by Peter Orlovsky and is reproduced by kind permission of the Allen Ginsberg Estate. All other photographs are from the Clear Vision archive, Manchester, UK. Typesetting and layout by Ruth Rudd Printed by Bell & Bain Ltd, Glasgow British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-911407-35-5 (hardback) ISBN 978-1-911407-36-2 (paperback)

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List of Illustrations 00 Maps 00 Foreword, Kalyanaprabha


in the sign of the golden wheel 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17


The Scent of Gardenias 00 Tea Gardens, Tamangs, and a Talking Calf 00 Deaths and Entrances 00 The Abode of Peace 00 Among the Universalists 00 Assam Idyll 00 Selling Tickets – and Thangkas 00 Proof-Reading at 110°F 00 Surveying Buddhism 00 Buddhism and the Nagpur Bar 00 Brickbats – and a Bouquet 00 Craigside 00 Two Funeral Pyres 00 The Unacceptable Face of Communism 00 A Life in the Day of the English Monk 00 Gangtok, the Village Capital 00 Birds of Passage 00 c o n t e n t s   / 

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18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Bombay Revisited 00 The Presence in the Corner 00 Nature Cure Clinic 00 2,500 Years of Buddhism 00 Holy Places and Eminent Buddhists 00 Death of a Hero 00 ‘Where The Three Yānas Flourish’ 00 precious teachers


Preface to the First Edition 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15


A Red-Robed Visitor 00 The French Nun – and the Ḍākinī 00 A Damsel in Distress 00 The Old Bhutan Palace 00 The Secret Order of the Potala 00 Family Fortunes 00 Poetry and Prose 00 A Banner of Victory 00 The Shadow Across Sikkim 00 Tibetan Tulkus 00 The Annihilator of Hell 00 Arrivals and Departures 00 The Chinese Hermit 00 Hindi-Cheeni Bhai-Bhai 00 Initiation, and an Invitation 00 with allen ginsberg in kalimpong Notes Index


00 00

viii  /  c o n t e n t s

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list of illustrations

Map of the eastern Himalayan region 00 Map of Sangharakshita’s Kalimpong 00 in the sign of the golden wheel Standing Buddha from Lama Govinda 00 Sachin and Sangharakshita 00 Dinesh and friends 00 Sangharakshita with Sachin’s family 00 Ani-la receiving alms 00 Cover of the Vaiśākha number of the Maha Bodhi journal 00 With friends and visitors 00 Group photo at Craigside 00 Dr Mehta and Sri Gulzarilal Nanda 00 Buddha Jayanti procession, Kalimpong Bazaar 00 Buddha Jayanti procession entering the Mela Ground 00 Group with Kachu Rimpoche at Everton Villa 00 With Dhardo Rimpoche in front of Ashoka pillar 00 With Dhardo Rimpoche, Maha Bodhi temple, Bodh Gaya 00 Dr Ambedkar at the mass conversion ceremony 00 Dalai Lama in procession 00

l i st o f i l l u st r at i o n s   / 

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precious teachers Jagdish Kashyap 00 Chattrul Sangye Dorje 00 With Kachu Rimpoche 00 Jamyang Khyentse Rimpoche 00 Dhardo Rimpoche 00 With Jivaka 00 Prajnaloka’s ordination 00 Sachin and Durgaprasad 00 Tomo Geshe Rimpoche 00 Dudjom Rimpoche 00 On teaching tour with Khantipālo 00 Yogi Chen in his hermitage 00 With Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche 00 Sangharakshita in front of the Triyana Vardhana Vihara


with allen ginsberg in kalimpong Allen Ginsberg in 1962

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o f i l l u st r at i o n s

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Bodh Gaya







2oo 4oo

Ahmenabad Calcutta Nagpur Bombay





Kalimpong Kathmandu Lumbini




Dehra Dun

Kulu Valley



Bodh Gaya




Shantiniketan Bolpur



Vulture’s Peak






15o miles


Sadiya Tinsukhia Junction Gangtok Digboi Rangpo BHUTAN Jorhat Kalimpong Balijan Siliguri ASSAM Mariyani Amingaon Cooch Behar Kamakhaya Patna Lumding Junction Katihar Junction Nalanda Manihari Ghat Bihar Sharif Rajgir EASTERN Mt Kanchenjunga



Kathmandu Darjeeling Ghoom Kurseong Kusinara

Pukhara Palpa Tansen Lumbini



North-eastern Himalayan Region, 1950s

ta es Te

tra mapu Brah

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Old Bhutan Palace

Twelfth Mile

1 mile

Bhutan House

This map is based on descriptions in the text, information from the internet, and some ‘best guesses’. Readers with any further information are requested to contact the publisher so that the map can be updated for any future edition. The Triyana Vardhana Vihara was located on the edge of Kalimpong, to the south-west.


Mela Ground

High Street

Tenth Mile Junction


Dr Graham’s Homes

Bhutanese Gompa

Tharpa Choling Gompa


Dharmodaya Vihara Town Hall Himalayan Hotel

The Hermitage Everton Villa Upper Cart Road


Ninth Mile


Church of Scotland Mission

Charteris Hopital

Sangharakshita’s Kalimpong

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‘Life’s memories are not life’s histories, but the original work of an artist.’ These words from the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore form the epigraph introducing In the Sign of the Golden Wheel, the first of the two memoirs included in this volume – but they apply also to the second, Precious Teachers, and even to the short essay with which the volume concludes, With Allen Ginsberg in Kalimpong. What is meant by ‘the original work of an artist’? What is art? Sangharakshita has given expression to his understanding of what art truly is in an essay, The Religion of Art. It is, he writes, ‘the organization of sensuous impressions into pleasurable formal relations that express the artist’s sensibility and communicate to his audience a sense of values that can transform their lives’.1 ‘Formal relations’ could refer to the way an author deals with his material, the organization of the memoirs into chapters, for instance. But what is the author’s sensibility? What are the values he communicates? And can they transform my life or yours? I hope this foreword goes some way to addressing these questions. In the Sign of the Golden Wheel was written forty years after the events it describes. Nevertheless, Sangharakshita takes us back with ease into the world in which he lived from May 1953 to May 1957. As to what characterizes those years, the middle period of the fourteen years when the eastern-Himalayan town of Kalimpong was his base, the memoir’s title gives us a clue. These years were lived ‘in the sign of’ the golden wheel or perhaps one could say, at the service of the golden wheel, the eightf o r e w o r d   / 

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spoked golden wheel of the Dharma, the dharmacakra which the Buddha set rolling two and a half thousand years ago – which perhaps explains why this memoir begins and ends with the festival of vaiśākha pūrṇimā, the celebration of the Buddha’s Enlightenment, that moment in human history when the Dharma first broke through into human consciousness. But how is the author to convey to us, his readers, the experiences that were his when those experiences span such broad dimensions? Sangharakshita is well aware of the problem and in Chapter 19 he quotes the Victorian art critic, John Ruskin. In writing about a life, Ruskin says, it is impossible to trace it steadily through successive years. Some forces are failing while others strengthen, and most act irregularly.… For all clearness of exposition, it is necessary to follow first one, then another, without confusing notices of what is happening in other directions.2

Sangharakshita does manage something of the impossible and there is a chronological progression that can be discerned through the book. At the same time each chapter, with its evocative title – ‘The Scent of Gardenias’, ‘Proof-Reading at 110°F’, ‘The Unacceptable Face of Communism’, ‘The Presence in the Corner’ – shines a light on a different aspect of his experience or tries to communicate something new. He once wrote of there being four kinds of disciple: those who are like patients, those who are like friends, those who are like sons, and those who are like lovers.3 Perhaps one could say there are four kinds of readers: those who are looking for the medicine of the Dharma, that is to say for teachings; those who, like friends, wish to know Sangharakshita more deeply as a man; those who want to be shown the way to live, as a son might look to a father; and those who are open to, even seeking out, the most esoteric of encounters. Perhaps you are looking for a little of each of these – and each is to be found in these pages. Sometimes the teachings are quite direct – in the summary of a lecture on the mantra oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ, for example. Sometimes they are a little more hidden. ‘Brickbats – and a Bouquet’ is the title of one chapter and we see Sangharakshita facing the blasts of the worldly winds of praise and blame, showing us, reminding us, how one may live as a Buddhist with the worldly winds that are inherent to saṃsāra. There xvi  /  f o r e w o r d

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are chapters in which he shares his inner life, including his meditation practice, which he kept up daily but did not always find easy: he still had to deal with wandering thoughts and negative emotions, and even periods of complete dryness. At other times his meditation practice was a source of tremendous inspiration and extracts from his diary describe some of the visions and insights that arose. ‘Reflect on everything that happens to you,’ he is reported as having said years later to one of his disciples. His reflections on his own experience are illuminating, perhaps none more so than the implications of discovering, as he does on a visit to Sarnath in 1956, that his bhikkhu ordination, which had meant so much to him, was technically invalid.4 His capacity to reflect is supported by an ability both to analyse and to synthesize. On a number of occasions we find him teasing out and exposing the machinations of those who might be considered ‘enemies’ and who certainly caused him considerable trouble, not least when he became editor of the Maha Bodhi journal in 1954. There were those on the editorial board who were not at all keen on the appointment and put obstacles in his way. He was accused by one reader of being a Mahāyānist with ‘vetulyan’, i.e. heretical, ideas! He was not deterred. The monthly journal was an effective vehicle for the communication of the Dharma to a wide audience; through the Maha Bodhi the golden wheel’s radiance might shine afar. Under his editorship it became the leading English-language Buddhist journal with contributors including Edward Conze, Lama Govinda, and other foremost Buddhist writers and scholars of the time. Through his editorials (collected together in Beating the Drum, Complete Works, vol. 8) he was able to inspire, challenge, encourage, and in general to express views on a wide range of topics. He was always concerned to establish right view, an essential basis for Buddhist life, both in his written work and in his lectures. The memoir records striking examples of intellectual battles against the intransigent views of Brahmins, universalists, and others who sought to undermine the basic tenets of the Buddha’s teaching. There are two aspects to the Dharma: doctrine and method, right view and right practice. Sangharakshita’s life was concerned to embody both to the highest degree. That the Dharma is something not only to be understood and reflected upon but to be practised in relation to every aspect of daily life is evident on almost every page, from his description of his very modest diet to his distaste for handling money. But perhaps f o r e w o r d   / 

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the greatest challenge of Dharma practice comes in relation to other people. Throughout the book we are introduced to the wide range of people with whom Sangharakshita made friends and we see his sympathy – and occasional disappointment or exasperation – with them. His vivid recollection of so many whom he encountered bears testimony to the degree to which he was, and is, able to ‘see’ people: their strengths and weaknesses, their eccentricities, and their spiritual aspirations – if they had any. Through the memoir we meet people of many different nationalities and backgrounds, ordinary townsfolk, rich and poor, politicians, a Maharaja, monks and nuns, saints and scholars, Buddhist, Hindu – or neither. For instance, there is cheerful Padam Bahadur, one of the cookbearers who worked for him for a while, and who ‘at times struck me as being a Nepalese version of Sam Weller, Mr Pickwick’s quick-witted Cockney servant’; or Dr  Irene Hudson, a Canadian Buddhist-cumTheosophist, ‘eccentric and opinionated’ but ‘of a generous disposition’. Sangharakshita seems to have been a natural teacher and educator and during his years in Kalimpong he taught many people. Aniruddha, the angry monk who had formerly thrown him out of the Dharmodaya Vihara, came to him for English lessons. There was Meera, the pretty, teenaged sister of Sachin, who, ‘though she seemed to enjoy her lessons with me’, was ‘not very bright’. But it was with his friend Sachin that the greatest pleasure was to be found. ‘When we studied poetry together, we were both sometimes left … in a mood bordering on the ecstatic.’ Of the personalities who had the most influence on his life during these years – though in very different ways – four figures stand out. Germanborn Lama Govinda was a kindred spirit who himself understood, and perhaps helped Sangharakshita understand, the inner bond between religion and art in their truest sense. In his introduction to Sangharakshita’s collection of poetic aphorisms, The Veil of Stars, written during these years, Govinda quotes the great German poet and philosopher Novalis: ‘Poets and Priests were one in the beginning’, thus giving recognition to these two vital aspects of Sangharakshita’s own life and being. Dr Mehta of Bombay was from a Parsi background and had once been naturopathic physician to Gandhi. He now saw himself as a kind of prophet receiving guidance directly from God. Sangharakshita and he developed a kind of friendship and in early 1956 our author spent some weeks with him and others at his Nature Cure Clinic in Poona where the two men exchanged on many topics including meditation xviii  /  f o r e w o r d

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and the God-given guidance. This gave Sangharakshita the incentive to take his own practice of meditation further and to look for the Buddhist equivalent to spiritual guidance that comes from beyond the ego. Dhardo Rimpoche, the Tibetan lama who in time he came to revere as a living bodhisattva, was both friend and teacher. Their connection begins in this memoir and features again in Precious Teachers. The man who had perhaps the most decisive influence on Sangharakshita as regards the future was Dr B. R. Ambedkar, architect of India’s Constitution and first Law Minister under Nehru. Ambedkar had tried with utmost energy to reform the lot of the masses of Indians regarded by caste Hindus as ‘untouchable’ (as he was himself). Another drumbeat through this memoir is the approaching decision to convert to Buddhism which Ambedkar came to see as the only means for real emancipation from ‘the hell of caste’ for himself and his followers – a matter he discusses with Sangharakshita in 1955. A year later he leads half a million people in the greatest mass conversion seen by the world. Then comes one of those strange and inexplicable ‘coincidences’: Sangharakshita’s presence in Nagpur at the time of Dr Ambedkar’s tragic death six weeks later in December 1956. It is one of the key events in the whole story. There are a number of deaths recounted in the chapters of In the Sign of the Golden Wheel, from that of Miss Barclay’s cat (who is buried with due Buddhist rites) to the mysterious, even sinister death of Raja Sonam Topgay Dorji, the Bhutanese ambassador. No doubt due to his life as a monk, it is with death and the ending of life rather than with birth that Sangharakshita comes into contact – though we see him giving support to two young friends when an unplanned pregnancy occurs. Teaching the Dharma through talks and lectures was one of his foremost activities and the one that seems to have given him the deepest fulfilment. As his first memoir explains, he discovered when giving his first lecture, aged twenty-one, that ideas … wove themselves Persian carpet-wise into intricate patterns, and these patterns dipped themselves in colourful words, without the slightest difficulty.5

He took the opportunity of giving talks wherever he could: in Kalimpong and Darjeeling, in Gangtok, at Tagore’s University at Santiniketan, f o r e w o r d   / 

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in Calcutta, and Assam, Bombay, and elsewhere.… He was a popular speaker and drew audiences of sometimes thousands of people – speaking now to students, now to the poorest communities. One set of lectures are of especial note. They took place in the summer of 1954, at the Indian Institute of Culture in Bangalore at the invitation of theosophists B. P. and Madame Wadia. Sangharakshita vividly recalls his experience in giving the lectures. He writes: By the time I gave the last lecture [whose theme was the bodhisattva ideal] I had a very large – and appreciative – audience … as I spoke, and they listened, time almost stood still, and it was as though we were transported to another world.

It was these four lectures which, over the following two years, he wrote up and expanded and which were published in the Buddha Jayanti year, 1956–7, as A Survey of Buddhism. The Buddha Jayanti was celebrated all over the Eastern world, marking the 2,500th year of the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa. We feel its approach through the pages of In the Sign of the Golden Wheel. It is as if all the tremendous effort to ‘work for the good of Buddhism’ that had gone into the previous six or seven years since arriving in Kalimpong now bore fruit. It was for Sangharakshita an annus mirabilis. In addition to the Survey, which attracted highly favourable reviews, I had visited the principal Buddhist holy places in the company of Dhardo Rimpoche, I had met the Dalai Lama, I had forged a special link with the newly-converted followers of Dr Ambedkar, I had received Tantric initiation from Chattrul Rimpoche, and I had been enabled to establish in Kalimpong a vihara that would serve both as my personal headquarters and as a centre of living Buddhism.

And so he leaves us with the image of himself as a tiny cell in the multi­ dimensional body of the sangha, the Buddhist spiritual community.

• On the wall above my shrine hangs an unusual image. In the centre is the Buddha, seated on a lotus from which emanate lotuses in the four xx  /  f o r e w o r d

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directions on each of which sit a number of figures or on one a pile of precious Dharma texts. This is the Triratna Refuge Tree, also known as the Tree of Refuge and Respect. On the lotus nearest to me I see Sangharakshita, my own teacher, surrounded by eight figures: to his right and left I can make out a Chinese and an Indian, and above him sit six Tibetans. These eight are the precious teachers who feature in the second memoir included in this volume of the Complete Works: the Indian Jagdish Kashyap, the Chinese Yogi Chen, and the six Tibetans: Chattrul Sangye Dorje, Kachu Rimpoche, Dhardo Rimpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Rimpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Precious Teachers was published nine years after In the Sign of the Golden Wheel. It covers the last period in Kalimpong, 1957–1964, and was dictated in 2006 to Nityabandhu, a Polish friend who was then living with Sangharakshita at ‘Madhyamaloka’ in Birmingham, uk, for Sangharakshita had become partially sighted. It was the last memoir to be written, although chronologically it comes fourth in the series of five. It bears many of the characteristics of the previous memoir, which I have already noted, so here I want to highlight just some of its outstanding features. In the Garava Sutta the Buddha makes clear how imperative it is to live revering that which is greater than oneself.6 Sangharakshita, it seems, has a natural tendency to venerate; it is a crucial aspect of his sensibility. In Precious Teachers he gives expression to the reverence and gratitude he feels towards his eight teachers, to each of whom we are introduced in a separate chapter (with the exception of Jagdish Kashyap who appears only briefly in the first chapter, having made his main appearance in the first memoir, as well as more briefly in the second). As he often does when introducing us to the people he came to know, the author is able to give quite a vivid impression with a few well chosen words. For instance, he describes his first impression of Dudjom Rimpoche: [a] comparatively small figure [in a] dark blue bokku, standing hatless in the bright sunshine … absolutely still … I had the distinct impression that … his mind, also, was absolutely still, as though the various winds that usually agitate the surface of our consciousness had in his case ceased to blow and he was at peace, in the deepest sense of the phrase, with himself and with the world. f o r e w o r d   / 

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The way he comes to know his teachers is different in each case. Dhardo Rimpoche is at first more of a friend. In 1956 they tour the Buddhist holy places at the invitation of the Government of India, and later they find themselves discussing how to deal with the troublesome French nun. But in October 1962 Dhardo Rimpoche becomes his teacher and preceptor when he gives Sangharakshita the bodhisattva ordination with its sixtyfour bodhisattva vows.7 Along with his friend Khantipālo, Sangharakshita spent many hours at the hermitage of the Chinese hermit Yogi Chen, listening to what amounted to an extended talk, given over four months, on the topic of meditation, as well as a fourfold account of the hermit’s biography – outward, inward, secret, and most secret. From his six Tibetan teachers he received what are known variously as empowerments, abhiṣekhas, wangkurs, or initiations. These are of great note in the first place because they created an indissoluble spiritual connection between Sangharakshita and his Tibetan teachers, connections that have stayed with him, and no doubt supported him, ever since. Secondly, these initiations would become the source of practices precious to Triratna Order members: sādhanas or visualization practices given at ordination. The initiations that Sangharakshita received from his Tibetan teachers include those of Green Tārā (from Chattrul Sangye Dorje); Amitābha and Kurukullā (from Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche); Mañjughoṣa, Avalokiteśvara, Vajrapāṇi, and Tārā (from Jamyang Khyentse Rimpoche); Padmasambhava and Amitāyus (from Kachu Rimpoche); the Medicine Buddha and White Tārā (from Dhardo Rimpoche); and Vajrasattva (from Dudjom Rimpoche). What the real meaning is, and what the real experience of so-called ‘empowerment’ or initiation, is a matter to which Sangharakshita gives serious attention in Chapter 11. But although the book’s title points us to the outstanding feature of this memoir, readers should not suppose that Sangharakshita spent all his time with his teachers, nor, therefore, that he would only write about them in recalling the years 1957–1964. Far from it. During those years he had his own vihara, the Triyana Vardhana Vihara, where, among other things, as he tells, us, he even turned part-time farmer. As ever, he came into contact with many different people and writes about them; among the most memorable are Ani-la, the intransigent French nun; Marie-Elise, the Kazini of Chakhung whose arrival in xxii  /  f o r e w o r d

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Kalimpong as a new bride is not without its complications; and Jivaka, the world’s first female to male transsexual, all of whom have part of a chapter or more devoted to their story. Other themes, too, are present: writing, both poetry and prose; and politics. In 1962 the dream of ‘Hindi-Cheeni bhai-bhai’ (Indians and Chinese are brothers) withered and China invaded the north-eastern frontier, not far from Kalimpong. It is with this as background, when things were all astir in Kalimpong, that Sangharakshita received the letter that would change the whole course of his life, and in fact the course of Buddhism in the West. He received an invitation from the English Sangha Trust to come and spend some time in London. He left for England in the summer of 1964 for what he imagined would be a four to six month visit. This trip, his friends assured him, ‘was sure to be a success’. With these words this memoir concludes.

• But not this volume. There is one more short text that belongs to this period, written for a book of tributes to the Beat poet and activist, Allen Ginsberg.8 With Allen Ginsberg in Kalimpong recounts how the ‘slouching, dirty, dishevelled, hirsute’ American poet appeared one day in June 1962 at Sangharakshita’s vihara, how the two were soon engaged in conversation, and how Sangharakshita (who had not heard of the poet before) was introduced to two volumes of Ginsberg’s poetry, Howl and Kaddish. Allen Ginsberg was keen to meet the Chinese Yogi Mr Chen for he had a very particular question which he wished to put to him. What that question was and its effect on the Chinese hermit you will discover in the final pages of this volume.

• To know a life is to come to know the man, and reading these memoirs is a means to encounter, to come to know, Sangharakshita. Rich though they are, they do not – cannot – do full justice to one who is, at his own admission, a rather complex personality. Interested readers may wish to turn to other writings that come from this period: the Maha Bodhi editorials, his letters to his friend, Dinoo Dubash, and especially the many poems which communicate aspects of experience, and a f o r e w o r d   / 

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sensibility, that only poetry can.9 In allowing ourselves to be influenced by the life and being and consciousness of one who deeply goes for Refuge to the Three Jewels, as the traditional idiom has it, we may find indeed that we, and our lives, are transformed. Kalyanaprabha Great Malvern 22 August 2018

xxiv  /  f o r e w o r d

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Profile for Windhorse Publications

The Complete Works of Sangharakshita Vol 22: In the Sign of the Golden Wheel  

This volume includes two memoirs. At the forefront of the Precious Teachers section are Sangharakshita’s Buddhist teachers: the Tibetans Jam...

The Complete Works of Sangharakshita Vol 22: In the Sign of the Golden Wheel  

This volume includes two memoirs. At the forefront of the Precious Teachers section are Sangharakshita’s Buddhist teachers: the Tibetans Jam...


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