Saturday, December 23, 2006

News Flash: Extra Retreat

We have just planned in an extra Going for Refuge retreat for the summer holidays. The dates are 18-26 August, the team is Candraprabha, Vidyalila, Vajrasakhi and Vajradarshini, and the theme is yet to be decided. Watch this space or better still go to the Tiratanaloka website and sign up to receive our news by email.

Our Community Days

Three times a year we plan in a week of what we call community days. During this time we often get someone from outside the team to do some ‘training’ with us. Over the years we’ve studied with Subhuti, meditated with Kamalashila, had Achara doing our Myers Briggs and Bridget doing an NVC weekend. The rest of the time is divided between personally exploring how life is for each of us and then having a few days of business meetings. It is often the only time that we are all here together.

So that is what we have been doing the past week or so. For the first three days Abhaya joined us and we studied “Self Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness” a Padmasambhava text and explored Formless meditation, which the text is about. It was very enjoyable, I think it is good for us, given that we are so often up front and leading things, just to sit back and be led in dharma study. One of the things that I found really helpful was Abhaya’s perspective on the dharma and the connections he made between this text, which is a Dzogchen text, and the Yogacara and Zen traditions.

When Abhaya left we had some time to each talk in depth. Mostly we talked about our lives at Tiratanaloka and some of the conflicts and pulls we feel to other lifestyles, to other people. Someone said it was as if we’d bought in all our dreams and fantasies, then we were all there more fully. I guess, speaking personally, I’m aware that in choosing to live this way I am choosing not to live in other ways and some of those other ways hold a lot of attraction! It’s left me feeling that everyone on the team is here because they really want to be, even though there are other lives they could imagine living.

Then we were on to business. We planned in a couple of extra retreats with bookings looking good for next year. Did some more planning for the coming year’s retreats. Tried to anticipate any long-term expenditure we might have coming up. Had a discussion on men coming to Tiratanaloka, we are not entirely closed, but with no plans to be open…that is a whole other story! We reviewed the way we work together and finished with a fascinating, emotive, discussion on decision-making!

The whole meeting seemed to be characterised by honest and open communication with nothing that couldn’t be said, including being able to talk about various dynamics that happen between us!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Path of Abundance (or some things about money)

As the year draws to a close, I thought I might write a bit about money - perhaps prompted by looking at our end of year accounts! If you've received a copy of our 2007 programme, or looked at the booking section of the website, you might have noticed that for our 2007 retreats we've introduced a 3-level price structure - even more complicated than before, you might think! The reason for our change is that previously we had just two rates for each retreat - the standard rate, and a concessionary rate for students and those on a low income or unemployed. Our retreat costs have remained largely unchanged over the last couple of years, although financially we are not making a profit. What we have done for 2007 is to keep the standard and concessionary rates almost the same as for 2006, but add in a higher rate for those who feel able to pay more. Some retreat costs can seem a lot to pay up-front, but we do want to continue offering 2-week retreats as this gives us a chance to really explore themes in detail, while maintaining an spacious atmosphere.

Still on the subject of money, we've been thinking quite a lot about the bursary fund recently and you might have received a flier about this with the 2007 programme. The background to this fund is that it was originally set up to help a woman in Estonia, who was practising in fairly isolated circumstances, come to Tiratanaloka to prepare for ordination. After a time, we were able to start using the funds to help other women who would not otherwise have any way of coming here. The bursary is entirely funded by voluntary donations, mostly from women who have come here on retreat and, because have been running at a loss, we're unfortunately unable to fund retreat places from our own profits. When people ask for financial help to come on retreat, we sometimes explore options other than the bursary with them first, such as paying for the retreat in instalments or fundraising in their local sangha. This is simply because the amount of money in the bursary is limited, and may only pay for a handful of retreat places each year. But we really do want women to be able to come here on retreat, so please keep donating to the bursary if you can and asking for money from it if you need to!

(p.s. those are chocolate coins in the photo... I ate them afterwards)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bhante's Visit by Vidyalila

The college of Public preceptors have just been to Tiratanaloka for one of their annual gatherings and Vajradarshini and I have been cooking for them. It was fun working together, with Candraprabha’s help before she flew off to the sunny Canaries. I have enjoyed the familiarity of our banter in the kitchen and the little quirky things that we tease each other about. Then quiet times just getting on with the task, asking each others opinions on important things like, “do you think that there are enough apples cooked for that apple betty pudding we are making”!

As part of the college meetings Bhante came to stay at Tiratanaloka. He decided to eat his meals with us in the community and spent an evening with us by the fire talking. He was only coming for one night but decided to stay two. It was such a pleasure to have Bhante visit us and when I said it was good to have him here, he said it was good to have a change and it was like being on holiday. We told him he had an open invitation to come and visit anytime and he said he might come in the spring.

Talking to Vajradarshini this morning we agreed that having Bhante visit Tiratanaloka was deeply significant and had had an effect that neither of us could quite say why or in what way. After all without Bhante there would be no Tiratanaloka. Its like he's in the fabric of the place. He is so fundamental to what we are doing here. In pujas, study, meditation, the refuge tree, and especially ordination, he is integral to those taking effect. He represents something so vital that has influenced my life, but also to so many of the women who come here. Many women comment that without Bhante they may well not have come across the Dharma and if they had, whether or not they would have made any sense of it for themselves without Bhante’s translation for our western minds.

One of the highlights for me about Bhante’s visit was the ordinariness of things like having him eat with us, seeing him strolling up and down the driveway, and taking him a cup of tea in the afternoon in one of my great aunts china tea cups. He is like a wise great uncle who comes to stay who has traveled the world, pioneered great changes, seen everything there is to see and in the latter part of his life quietly imparts wisdom from the armchair.

I took a few photos, which you can see here, a rather Russian flavour with the hat. He seemed very well and talked about his new book out next year about his teachers and others.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Vajradarshini on Ordination Training

Autumn is here and I’m thinking back to summer and the chairman’s meeting where I tried to sum up what training for ordination we are doing at Tiratanaloka, what’s changed and what’s the same. Padmavajra was doing the same thing on behalf of the team at Padmaloka.

So what was all that Talk of ‘Decentralisation’?
Have you noticed there’s been a lot of talk about ‘decentralisation’? As if there really was a ‘centralised’ process and that overnight the whole process would be ‘decentralised’.

Ordination training has never been completely centralised, whatever someone is doing to deepen their practice and understanding of the order, that is training, its happened wherever people have been practicing.

But something has changed.

Has Tiratanaloka’s Role Changed?
Training here had two aspects: One was the retreats we offered; they are specifically ‘training for ordination’ retreats. The other was that the ordination team here was the ‘recommending body’ the people who, having gathered all the information, would recommend someone for ordination to the public preceptors.

It is the second of these that have changed, the ordination team here are no longer ‘the recommending body’, so who is?

Where is my ‘Centre of Gravity’?
Each woman wanting to join the order will have their own ‘centre of gravity’; this is where and with whom their practice takes place and manifests. This can take as many different forms as there are women. It is from this ‘centre of gravity’, i.e. the woman herself, her friends in the order, her prospective private preceptor, where the recommendation will come. Of course someone’s ‘centre of gravity’ may be at Tiratanaloka, but that is often no longer the case.

So are all the Centres Running their Own Going for Refuge Retreats?
Some centres may be, particularly outside of the UK, but most UK centres won’t have the resources to do this, or won’t want to provide something that we are already able to provide. Most women will still be doing that aspect of their training with us. Though there are more and more valuable retreats being run throughout the movement and these too are an essential part of a broader part of training for ordination.

Why Come to Tiratanaloka?
We Exist

I’ve been feeling that there is something about the existence of Tiratanaloka that seems to have value, before we actually ‘do’ anything. We exist as a community of Dharmacharinis living, working, and practising together. We are here because we feel these are conducive conditions for us to practice in and we want to create those conditions for other women.
We Specialise
There are three aspects to what we do:
1. Run retreats which will help women to deepen their Going for Refuge.
2. All our retreats aim to bring about a deeper understanding of the Order.
3. We offer a personal ongoing connection and guidance for those who want it.

We have a New Framework of Retreats
We continue to cover all the essential themes while keeping our own creative edge with the freedom to explore them in ways that we consider current and appropriate. See our new programme and website for details.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The shrineroom

If you haven't been here for a while (or at all!) then you won't have seen our redecorated shrine room. Here's what Vidyalila wrote about the project to refurbish it......

When I was thinking about how I would describe the new shrineroom at Tiratanaloka, the words grace, light, contemporary, spacious and earthy came to mind. The neutral colours (from Farrow and Ball of course !) are interesting and richly significant enough to impact on the overall effect of simplicity. The carpet has been taken up and newly sanded light coloured floorboards now provide the smooth platform from which we sit to meditate, puja and chant. The wall lights and old spot lights were taken down and a simple string of spot lights fitted giving a soft warm light, highlighting the thangkas and paintings of Vajrayogini, Vajrasattva and Amitayus. A mala of floor up lighters give extra lighting to the shrine, where the Buddha is now raised high. The Buddha sits on a shrine of mature wood and slate found from a reclaimed materials yard. The wood is full of appealing marks of age and elemental intimacy which in itself is a rupa of beauty. Underfloor heating has been installed, which has meant that the radiators have gone creating an uncluttered atmosphere and giving more wall space for yoga. During a working retreat here in April, Sophia, Carol, Abie, Anna, Sujun and Ann joined some of our community, Candraprabha, Sridevi, Vajradarshini, Vajrasakhi and myself, to embark upon the decoration of our new shrineroom. After 3 days of polyfilla, heavy sanding and much dust, the walls and woodwork gleamed with the marks of readiness to be licked with paint. With ladders, loud sanders, varying size brushes, teas, kindness, some moments of poetry, and quiet concentrated work the shrineroom emerged into its new form. Each days work ended with us sitting on the plastic protected floor in the middle of the shrineroom surrounded by worn sandpaper, empty paint pots, and satisfied sighs of tiredness. We were not only doing the shrineroom on this work retreat, we were also relaying the path to the stupa, extending it to link up with the patio which was laid last summer, and painting the external woodwork of the conservatory but that’s another story!!

Life in the Office

Here's a little taste of what it's like working in the office at Tiratanaloka. I've just come back from a few days visiting my mum in Ireland so there is a bit to catch up on. Today I've been replying to a few phone messages, booking people on to some of our 2007 retreats, sending information out to women who have recently asked for ordination (78 so far this year!) and replying to lots of emails. It's amazing how quickly time passes. On a more personal note, I've been starting to think about the new year retreat on the Four Mind Turnings. There's a good bit about these reflections in Reginald Ray's book on Tibetan Buddhism 'Indestructible Truth'. Living at Tiratanaloka is such a mix of things - practical work, planning retreats and being on retreat. All have a very different rhythm to them and it's almost impossible to say what a typical week is like.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hello from Tiratanaloka

Hello! Welcome to our blog! The team here will be using this to let you know what's going on at Tiratanaloka - news about the retreat centre, about our retreats and anything else we think might interest you. We're situated near Brecon, in South Wales, and run retreats for women who have asked for ordination into the Western Buddhist Order.