January–July 1999

During the last ten months Bhante has taken part in quite a number of public events, most notably a series of three public talks, the first he has given for a number of years. The first two of these were given at the new centre in Birmingham, which on both occasions saw over two hundred people attending. The first talk, in January, was entitled A Life for the Dharma and was based on themes arising from the life of Atisha, one of the Indian teachers who introduced Buddhism into Tibet in the 11th century. In February, for his second talk entitled Standing on Holy Ground Bhante explored some reflections on one of his own poems, The Scholars, written in the 1950s. Bhante’s third talk was given at the Bishopsgate Institute in London as part of the London Buddhist Centre’s Buddha Day celebrations. It was called Looking at the Bodhi Tree and focussed upon the theme of gratitude, especially for one’s parents, teachers and spiritual friends.

Bhante has visited a number of centres recently for question and answer sessions with some of their regulars members. In early March he visited the Birmingham centre and later on in the month he travelled up to Sheffield, while in June it was Nottingham’s turn. Bhante also took part in a question and answer session in February during a seminar at Madhymaloka led by Kovida on the theme of the Religion of Art.

Over the weekend of the 10th and 11th April Bhante attended the WBO and FWBO day celebrations held at Birmingham University. On the Saturday he chaired a series of readings by Order members taken from the White Lotus Sutra, while the next day he himself read a selection of his own poems. On the Friday evening before this, at the Birmingham Centre, he heard a choral puja sung by members of various FWBO choirs led by Vipulakirti.

At the end of June Bhante and Akashagarbha were guests of the Ordination Team at Tiratanaloka in order to attend the dedication ceremony of their new stupa. It had been carved out of local red sandstone by Rod Drew of Cambridge and was situated on a mound on the front lawn. Bhante spoke a few words about the significance of the stupa and then led a Puja and afterwards the rain held off long enough for Bhante to place some of Dhardo Rimpoche’s ashes inside the stupa.

This year Bhante has visited some of the FWBO centres on the Continent. In late March he spent a week as a guest of the Amsterdam centre where he led an Akshobhya ritual, the dedication of the new centre and gave a talk. He was also involved in meetings and discussions with the Dutch Order members, had lunch with the women Mitras and gave a number of others personal interviews.

As well as his more official duties Bhante was shown around some of the sights, such as the Rijksmuseum, the Museum of Marine Biology, the Keukenhof ( the Tulip Garden) and took a boat trip along the canals. He also had time to visit The Hague and Haarlem.

Then, in mid-April Bhante travelled to Spain to open the new centre in Valencia. Here he gave two talks, one entitled The Six Emphases of the FWBO and the other, My Eight Principal Teachers. As well as several personal interviews he met the men Mitras and Order members over lunch and was invited to tea at the women’s community. Bhante also had time to see an exhibition of Valencian religious art at the Cathedral.

Bhante had a chance to see more religious art when he travelled to Rome in May with Paramartha. Here they stayed with Arcismati and visited the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum, the Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Villa Borghese, amongst other places. Bhante also met some of the people attending Arcismati’s classes.

Viryabodhi hosted Bhante on a visit to Stockholm in June. Here Bhante was interviewed for Swedish television. He also gave a talk at the centre and signed copies of the newly published Swedish translation of Human Enlightenment, and again spent time with the Order Members, Mitras and Friends of the centre.

While in Sweden Bhante visited Strindberg’s house, went on a ferry trip around the Stockholm Archipelago and travel to Uppsala where he saw Swedenborg’s sarcophagus in the Cathedral. He also had an opportunity to meet Sister Amita Nissatta, old friend whom he knew in India.

In early July Bhante did a ten day tour of south-west Germany and northern Switzerland. At Frankfurt he was met by Dhammaloka and Anomarati and together they passed through the towns of Worms, Heidelberg, Ludwigsburg, Stuttgart, Tubingen and Buren and visiting various museums, art galleries, churches and castles. Then in Meersburg, on the shores of Lake Constance, they were joined for the rest of the journey by Dharmapriya. Here they spent three nights, visiting Constance and crossing over to the island of Reichenau. They also went to Uberlingen to visit some disciples of Lama Govinda, among them being Rev. Advayavajra, an old friend of Bhante’s from his India days.

After leaving Meersburg they went on to Lindau and then to Grenzach, where they were the guests of Sarathi and Stefan Pohl. From Grenzach they visited Basel and Dornach, both in Switzerland. At Dornach they called in on the Goetheanum, the headquarters of the Anthroposophical movement founded by Ruldolph Steiner and were given a guided tour of the building. Travelling northwards they briefly crossed into France to look at Gunewald’s famous Eisenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, before Bhante returned to Britain from Frankfurt.

In between all these trips Bhante has been invited to various social events. In March Bhante and Prasannasiddhi attended a performance of Parsifal at the English National Opera in London. In April Bhante was invited to dinner with members of the Mahamaitri Chapter in Birmingham. The following week he had afternoon tea with members of Buddhafield in a wood owned by Lokabandhu near Bewdley. In June, with Prasannasiddhi in London, Bhante attended a performance of Poulenc’s The Carmelites.

And finally during this time Bhante has continued to work both on his memoirs and on revising Wisdom Beyond Words and Ritual Devotion in Buddhism to get them ready for new editions. He also wrote a preface to David Smith’s A Record of Awakening, soon to be published by Windhorse.

See more articles by Sangharakshita on the FWBO website. Visit Sangharakshita’s personal website and see his essays on Nietzsche and Buddhism and Art and the Spritual Life

Originally published in Madhyamavani: Autumn Issue Two (Birmingham: Madhyamaloka, 1999).